Thursday, January 29, 2009

LOST 025: Widmore Than Meets The Eye


I keep becoming more and more impressed by what is happening here. Unless I'm way off, we're looking at the high water mark in episodic TV by a long shot. The things the show creators and writers are doing with narrative is astounding. As somebody who writes fiction and tries to take it seriously, I'm pretty much in awe.

Let's look at the macro story for a second and see if I can unpack what is being done.

We have our entry point into the story at what we now know to be a midpoint of sorts in the life of the island, albeit a highly dramatic one: the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. Our perspective is that of the survivors, who we get to know in the context of their interactions with one another and the actions they take in response to the situation in which they find themselves. Marooned. Stranded. Awaiting rescue. The implied dramatic question is: which of them will be rescued, and how?

But as we get to know these people, we're constantly met with surprises as we visit past episodes in their lives. These glimpses give us new perspective on who these people are, and what motivates them. Each hour gives us new information which dramatically changes our preconceptions. So, on a smaller level, a character level, the question becomes: Is past prologue? Does the past define us, or can our future selves be something more? This, laid across the larger question: which of these people will be rescued, and how?

And over all of this, the idea of the paradigm shift. How perspective changes expectation. And this is done on a character level. We rotate Locke like a gem, and see another facet. Another. Another. We do the same with Jack. With Ben. With Sawyer. And so on.

Meanwhile, both the character-driven flashbacks and the "present time" events on the island begin suggesting paradigm shifts of their own. Whispers in the woods. An unseen monster. A hatch. Other people, already living on the island. The remains of a statue. Coincidences between the survivors of Flight 815 that grow to be too much to ignore. There is more going on here than we thought, and the deeper we get, the more hints we have as to what kind of "more" that is. Hints only. But this is more than just an island, and the more the mystery deepens, the less the question becomes: "which of these people will be rescued, and how?" -- and the more it becomes, "what is happening on this island, and what are the stakes?"

And this is done slowly, subtly, so that you barely realize it is happening, until it is driven home with the biggest paradigm shift of all.

Seventy flashbacks. And then, one flash forward. "

We have to go back!" Jack says.

And, at that moment, the very story structure that has been used to create these micro-level paradigm shifts is employed on the macro level. The main question is and can no longer be: "which of these people will be rescued, and how?", because the whole fourth season was given to answering exactly those questions, and shifting our paradigm once more to the fact, grown slowly and subtly, that there is a much larger story happening.

Here is who is rescued.

Here is how.

And here is why those were the wrong questions all along.

And here is how our friends and heroes come to grips with that fact.

The paradigm has shifted again, but now it has shifted up a level.

And now, we learn that this fractured timeline was not just a way of giving us these paradigm shifts of character. We learn that it was the story's way of telling us, once again slowly and oh-so-subtly, the very nature of the story we were being told. It is a time travel story.

This season, we're going to have a lot of questions answered. We're going to understand what the stakes are at the end. We're going to learn in what ways our heroes have been a part of the island's history all along its timeline, influencing it, changing things.

Is it any wonder that John Locke has a connection with the island? Is it any wonder that the Oceanic Six need to be there? They aren't just observing the history of the island. They are the history of the island.

Every episode, now, is a flashback. Not a flashback of the character, but of the island. Of the story itself. If you doubt that isn't the writer's intention, consider that our characters literally "flash" back. In the same way that we used to look back at a seemingly angry, homicidal Jin, and find the fisherman's son with the romantic heart, we will now be shown the story from different perspectives.

It's the same theme as it was from the first episode.

Perspective is everything. Everything is relative. Paradigms shift.

And the method of the storytelling informs the plot, as the plot informs the method. Now we turn the whole story of the island around and inspect the facets of that gem.

Let's turn the story now and look at it this way.

Let's look at it from this perspective.

How does it look to you now that you know that he had already met him?

And the question remains: Is past prologue? Does the past define us, or can our future selves be something more?

That is brilliant.

On To The Episode

* Island Time. Our friends have been spending their time since the last flash in the early 50s, and it is at a rather tense time for the Others. The U.S. army has been there and gotten killed real good, but not before they left behind their tents (in which Richard was still living in "present" day) . . . oh, and the episode's eponymous entity, a friggin' leaking H-bomb named JUGHEAD, hanging from a thread from a scaffolding. That thing'll peel your paint for you, Sparky. The army's also rigged the whole place with explosives. I guess that explains the threats of hand-cuttery and the flaming arrows.

So. Why do the Oceanic Six have to return? I think we can say with certainty that it is because they are a part of the island's history just as Sawyer and Locke and company are. That means if they aren't there to do what the did do, then they won't do what they did, and we'll have a serious time/space snarl on our hands.

Further, I'm guessing that this is the reason for all the "coincidences" that led them to get on that particular plane. I think it was orchestrated by the Guardians. These people were funneled onto that plane by human agents of fate because they HAD to be on that plane. Because they were. Another way of saying it would be that the world's fate depended on them being on that plane in the same way that it now depends on the six (seven? eight?) of them returning.

It's genius that nothing our heroes do in the past can change what will happen. It means that we can have our guys running around the timeline without worrying about the butterfly effect. They don't change things that happened. They are the reason that the things that did happen, happened. Only if they are NOT running around the timeline do we worry about a butterfly effect.

* Charles Widmore. Yep, he was an Other back in the 50s, reporting to Richard. That's the more obvious of the two big reveals this year, and the implications really are beyond my reckoning. Suffice it to say that at some point there was a rather sizable break between young Widmore and Richard. Perhaps there was a coup, perhaps he got banished. Perhaps he actually did become leader of the Others at some point but was supplanted. It's tough to say. But by the time Ben arrived, Dharma was obviously a reality, so either Widmore joined up with them while on-island, or Widmore had been booted off / left the island by that time, made a fortune, and founded Dharma. If it is the latter, that means that it is three times Widmore's found the island. First as an Other, next when Dharma came, and finally the freighter of doom.

I also find it interesting that Desmond's trip to Widmore's office, which I thought would spell certain doom for our often bare-chested Scot, actually resulted only in acquiescence from Widmore, primarily stemming from concern for his daughter. I think in keeping with the paradigm-shift theme, we've just seen a different side of the man. He certainly seems more sympathetic and complex, and frankly more Ben-like, than ever before.

* Desmond & Penny. Well, they have a kid named Charlie. Not Charles, but Charlie, so I think he was named after Desmond's You All Everybody hobbit buddy and not Penny's father. At any rate, the kid definitely raises the stakes in this for Des and Penny, and leads to some very interesting conjectures . . . but more on that later.

How is that yacht going to go from Oxford to LA in 70 hours, exactly? Don't get me wrong, it's a nice yacht. But it's not a damn Concorde jet.

* Faraday. He's already lost one girlfriend to time sickness back in Britain, and now it looks like he's about to lose another. Why Charlotte and not our other time-shifters? Not sure. But here is what I want to say about Faraday. First, it seems almost 100% certain that his mother is Ms. Hawking, who we last saw locating the island in time (70 hrs. hence) and space (not sure where), and confirming for Ben that if the Oceanic Six et al., don't get BACK TO THE ISLAND in the next window, than the fate of the world is in doubt.

High stakes.

Also, that pixie-Other with the gun back in the 50s? The one Faraday thinks he sort of recognizes? Yeah, that's his mom. I mean, they didn't come out and say it, but that's what's going on. Book it.

Which means that both factions now battling for the island can be traced back to Widmore and Pixie Other. But the fact that Widmore was backing Faraday's work financially, and the fact that Widmore knows the current whereabouts of Ms. Hawking, apparently right down to the address and digits, suggests that these two factions are more closely entwined even in "present" day than we thought.

* Richard Alpert. I'm really digging this guy now, and it's not just because he's not afraid to rock the eye makeup like latter-day Bowie. He got some of the best lines of the episode in his interaction with Locke, which also conveyed the following information:

1) He really is ageless. Not sure what that's about, but isn't it interesting that it didn't surprise Juliet a bit?

2) He's been living in those U.S. soldiers tents for a while.

3) He was indeed the leader of the Others before Ben. Somehow the exchange of power was bloodless, or at least didn't involve Alpert leaving. It must have been Jacob-brokered.

4) He went to visit young Locke because old Locke invited him. So that explains why they kept trying to bring Locke in on leadership training. You remember who besides Alpert contacted Locke in that episode? That's right, Abbadan, who put the idea of walkabout in Locke's head. So if Alpert and Ben and Hawking are Guardians aligned against Fallen Guardian Widmore, I guess you'd have to put Abbadan on the Alpert/Hawking axis. The Guardians, as I call them. Which means of course that our scientists from the freighter are Hawking moles, even if they don't know it themselves.

And people say we aren't getting answers.

* Jughead. This is the second major revelation, and it's not as obvious as the Charles Widmore one, but it's just as important. Let's consider the fact that there is an H-bomb, leaking radiation. Let's consider the fact that it is next to a source of power that is so powerful that Marvin Candle pitched a hissy fit last week when somebody suggested using mere dynamite next to it. Let's assume that the Others buried it, as Faraday suggested.


Where did they bury it? Maybe under a hatch? Perhaps with a warning to wear radiation suits whenever you leave? Perhaps with some kind of process for releasing the radiation in manageable chunks, so as to not throw the island's electro-magnetic time-shift powers into hyperdrive? Perhaps a release, oh, I don't know, hmmm, every 108 minutes? Maybe deep under the hatch, it was still accessible? Maybe there was a key that would set it off?

Maybe Dharma was initially just a project that Richard had the Others start in order to manage the Jughead. Maybe he gave that project to Widmore to manage. Maybe, just maybe.

What was that purple sky event, anyway? What happened when Desmond turned the key? Did he set that bomb off? If so, when did he set it off? By which I mean, in what part of the timeline?

I'm guessing it goes off at the end of the world.

Enough speculation on that matter though. I think we can say with high certainty that it was the Jughead buried under the Swan hatch.

Wild Ass Guesses and Crazy Predictions

OK, these aren't things that we learned for sure, but they are pretty good guesses, I think:

* We're going to see a "flash" back to a point in time when that four toed statue was still standing. And that is going to be a very revealing moment.

* We're going to see Libby again. The writers keep saying that they feel they'd reached the end of that story, but come on. These guys clearly aren't dumb, and saying that is dumb. Her story wasn't even close to resolved. Her story was nothing BUT unresolved stuff. She'll be back. I think she was one of those everyday folks like the butcher last week, who work for the Hawking/Alpert axis. She gave Desmond the boat that led him to the island, for crying out loud. And we know that group wanted to get Desmond to the island.

* Other people working for Hawking/Alpert? How about Claire's psychic? That guy alone was responsible for getting Claire, Aaron and Eko to the island.

* Locke is probably Jacob. I think when he dies we'll get an idea of what happens to people who die on this island. Pretty obviously they stick around in some fashion more tangible than we are used to.

* The Adam and Eve skeletons that Jack and Kate found way back in episode four are, (a) characters we know, and (b) probably the ancestral couple from whom the Others came. I firmly believe that two of our characters will wind up waaaay back at the beginning of the island's history, and their offspring will populate the island. It's not just randomness that caused the writers to dub them "Adam and Eve", for crying out loud. Best guesses are Jack and Kate or Desmond and Penny. The latter are more likely, frankly. They are the true romantic soul of the story in a way that (frankly) unlikable characters like Kate and Jack can't be, and they have a kid named Charlie. And we know that there is a Charles on the island in the 50s with a British accent. Charles Widmore, remember. Who eventually has a daughter named Penny. Who gives birth to a child named Charlie. Who just may travel back in time and grow up to become an Other named Charles. Who tries to take over the island and is banished. Who eventually becomes a Dharma founding tycoon with a daughter named Penny. Who gives birth to a little boy named Charlie . . . head hurt yet?

Actually I don't think that scenario is likely for any number of reasons, including the fact that old Charles Widmore would recognize Desmond as his dad, and be unlikely to try to keep his folks apart. I just thought it would be fun to really mess with things.

Anyway, I think one of the final images of the whole story will tell us how Desmond and Penny wind up in that cave. Let's just mark that one down as an official prediction right now.

* Oh, and incidentally? I have been saying for a good long time that I think that the island is in fact the Biblical Garden of Eden, hence the healing powers, the "angel" smokemonster that is there to guard it, the fact that it is so difficult for people to find, the fact that everybody who has been there has a yearning to return. Not only that, but I think we have foreshadowing of this, given the sheer amount of Biblical references to which we've been privy.
I've been saying this for about two years now. Nothing I've seen has done anything but strengthen that idea. So, I'll say it again. Oceanic 815 crash landed on the Garden of Eden.

Join us next week, when Rose and Bernard wonder:

"Did we get hit by flaming arrows, or are we just . . ."



SilverVW said...

I think the pixie-other hooked up with a young Charles Widemore on the island and Faraday is their love child.

Anonymous said...

Wow, just plain wow. Awesome review and recap. I've watched the show religiously for years and I never thought about the jughead/swan connection, but it makes perfect sense. After Des turned the key, wasn't that the first time we saw the "white light" that signaled time travel? We know "in the future" the island isn't there, when Jack/Kate et al escaped. So, did Desmond blow up the island but trigger something that began the timeline jump, that was eventually accelerated by Ben?

Couldn't agree more btw, this season has been awesome. It's weird how they are confirming suspicions we as an audience have had over the years, and at times it seems like not a lot is happening. But the plot is always moving forward, and we are always seeing a new part of the gem.

I'll definitely be coming to your site after every episode till the show ends. Just plain awesome.

timpramas said...

Outstanding! I look forward to your recaps as much as I look forward to the new episodes. Thank you.

P@ said...

Really great review/recap. This:
What was that purple sky event, anyway? What happened when Desmond turned the key? Did he set that bomb off? If so, when did he set it off? By which I mean, in what part of the timeline?

I'm guessing it goes off at the end of the world.

...gave me chills. I hadn't considered that idea before - that Jughead might have gone off in the future, but the idea is truly gripping.

including the fact that old Charles Widmore would recognize Desmond as his dad, and be unlikely to try to keep his folks apart.
...or, perhaps he needed to make sure they were kept apart until the right time. If they'd wed earlier, as they had planned, they would have had children earlier. Perhaps Papa Widmore was simply mastering his own destiny.