Friday, May 1, 2009

My Mother is an Other and My Constant is my Brother (in law)

After a week off (thanks pedantic clip show!), Lost returned with yet another stellar episode, "The Variable." By virtue of the title, and the comments of the producers, "The Variable" is intended as a sort of companion piece or bookend to one of the best, if not the best, episodes in Lost's history, last season's "The Constant." While there are some thematic touchstones (lost love, time travel, free will, Oxford), "The Variable" isn't as much a sequel to that much lauded previous episode as it is an accelerant to this season's endgame.

Speaking of endgames: Daniel is dead.


Let's just stop for a moment and raise a Dharma beer in honor of the quirky physicist who gave a face (and a brain) to Lost's convoluted time travel theory, and who brought an unexpected pathos to his love for fellow doomed frieghtie, Charlotte. Jeremy Davies gives all his roles an agitated, jittery spin that makes them eminently watchable, and his performance here as Daniel Faraday won over many a fan who might have been skeptical at first. On Lost, as we know, even when you're "dead," you can pop up in future episodes, what with the flashbacks, flashforwards and quantum shenanigans, but if this is the last we've seen of Dan, Davies went out on a high note. See ya in anutha life, brutha.

So what happened on "The Variable?" Well....

Penny is at the hospital with young Charlie, as Des struggles to recover from Ben's gunshot at the marina. Then, Eloise Hawking shows up without so much as a get well balloon. From this encounter, we learn a few things: Penny doesn't know Hawking at all. Hawking thinks she's responsible for putting things into motion that resulted in Ben shooting Des. Penny is still gorgeous. And groceries aren't bulletproof.

Back in 1977, Dan arrives in Dharmaville, and is not rich from having invented the DVD. (Again, another funny reminder that Hurley surely doesn't subscribe to the "can't change the future" theory of time travel). He returned from Ann Arbor, where he was doing further research (with the DeGroots?) because of a fax that arrived of the infamous "Dharma recruits photo" that featured our out of chronology Losites. Yes, I looked it up, and there were rudimentary fax machines around in the late 70s, and for a group bent on harnessing the power of time and space, it's not a stretch to think that Dharma would have them. But who exactly SENT the fax to Dan, prompting this return trip? It has to be someone from the DI in 1977, who would find that picture curious or of note. (Wild ass guess? Juliet, who always seems to know and do a little more than she lets on). Dan is freaked out that the Losties are there, back in the 70s, and sounds the destiny alarm for Jack when told Hawking was the one responsible for prodding them to come back:

“Well, I got some bad news for you Jack. You don’t belong here at all. She was wrong.”

We flash back to Dan's past, as mom is trying to dissuade him from playing the piano, and focus on his mind and his studies:

“Destiny means that if one has a special gift, that it must be nurtured.”

If that's similar to Navin Johnson's "special purpose," I'm glad we skip over that part of the backstory. She also refers to her mothering and development of this gift, haltingly, as "her...job." Interesting. It's here that we also start to see the beginning of many Daniel references to "time." He keeps track of the metronome. And he also enigmatically says:

“I can MAKE TIME.”
To which she responds, “If only you could.”

We're back in Dharmaville, and I can't be the only one who noticed Juliet in a red shirt. Despite my love of the color, I know the affection the producers have for Star Trek, and this does not make me happy. (Or, it could be just a simple color choice, which looks great on Juliet). Faraday runs off with Miles, and leaves another cryptic comment with Jack: "I just--I just have an errand to run. Be right back!" Jack goes to visit Sawyer, and tell him about Dan's return, and meets the latest guest at Casa LaFleur: " Phil, Jack. Jack... Phil."

Miles and Dan get to the Swan construction, where Dan waits (precisely) on Chang. "Right on time." (Another Dan "time" reference, and also, how does Dan know these things? Consulting his notebook? Has he "been" to this time and these events previously, perhaps via his "consciousness time traveling" experiments?). We see a further exploration of the season's opening scene, with Dan in the pit where the DI will eventually drill too far and cause the "incident" and the release of all the electromagnetic energy underneath the Orchid. Of course, we get this winking line:

“Did you hear that? Time travel. How stupid does that guy think we are?”

Dan finds Chang, and explains the dire nature of the situation, and calls for an evacuation. He does this calmly, rationaly and without equivocation, citing multiple references and scientific reasons why the calamity will eventually happen. He uses his knowledge of 30 years hence to tell Chang things only he could know to make his point. OR, NO HE DOESN'T. He's typical spaz-Dan, and his closing line is "I'm from the future."

Yes, we giggle, but if you're going to make a solid case that A. you are indeed from the future, and that B. the dude should listen to you, Dan's approach falls somewhere between "can't be taken seriously" and "destined to fail."

Perhaps that's the point of it all, since Dan is kinda "destined to fail." At least in the sense that he doesn't make it out of these 44 minutes alive, and live to see Charlotte safe, Jughead exploded and Oceanic 815 arriving at its destination in 2004.

Anyhoo, Dan joins Hurley's Miles and Chang Reunion Club, only to have the good doctor dismiss it, and Miles deny it. Once he heard about dad's fondness for country music, maybe there's just no going back.

Or is there a method to Dan's madness? After all, he tells Miles that, “I’m just making sure your father does what he’s supposed to do.” So did he never intend to honestly convince Chang to evacuate the island? This quote is loaded, since he speaks from a position of foreknowledge of Chang's actions. Which we, the audience, assume leads to the "incident" and the events that we've always seen play out. So if Dan is pushing people to take the actions they are "supposed to," what exactly is his plan? And how would Chang doing what he's "supposed to" fit with Dan's later plan to blow up Jughead?

We have another Dan flashback, where we learn:
  • Theresa was Dan's Oxford girlfriend, before he swiss cheesed her brain in time travel experiments and left her in a coma.
  • He got a $1.5 million research grant from Charles Widmore (which Eloise looks shocked to know). I'm not sure if this was the actor, or how I read it, but this was strange, since at this point, Eloise knows full well what Widmore is up to, and knows what Dan's fate will eventually be.
  • Eloise gives shitty graduation gifts. Graduate from Oxford, top of class, and get a huge research grant, despite looking like Charles Manson, and all you get is a crappy journal?
Back to Dharmaville, where Phil still hasn't come to grips with his sexuality. Sawyer retakes Island Comedy Crown from Miles and Hurley:

“What am I supposed to say, my fist slipped?”
“Welcome to the meeting, Twitchy. Good to see ya again. Pound cake's in the kitchen. Help yourself to the punch.”

Dan casually inquires about the location of "the hostiles," and says he needs his mom in order for all of them to get back "to where we belong."

Flashback to Dan crying watching the 815 at the bottom of the sea footage, and he receives a visit from Widmore. Charles finally settles the question of how the fake plane got there (it was him. So does this also settle the motives of the dead guy Miles "read" when he was with Naomi? He had "evidence" about the fake, right, and Widmore's team took him out? So was he one of Bram's crew, intent on proving Widmore's fakery?) Dan's memory is shot, presumably from the same time travel experiments that got him kicked out of Oxford and turned his girlfriend into a rutabaga. But, as Charles points out (and Locke, Rose, Mikhael and many others know -- well, except Charlie, Boone, Naomi, Shannon, Libby, Ana Lucia, Ethan, Frogurt and....) the island has healing properties. This also explains the "flash card" games Charlotte and Dan were playing, since his memory and mind were slowly returning to him by then. (Wow, that boat ride TO the island with Dan must have been a blast).

From there, we're back in Dharmaville with the Losties debating their next course of action.

Sawyer continues the funny: "Your mother was an Other?"
But Hurley chimes in with “You guys were in 1954? Like ‘Fonzie times?’”
Sawyer will not led the Comedy title go without a fight: “Whatever her reason is, helpin’ HG Welles talk to his mommy ain’t got nothing to do with it.”

More debate ensues, Sawyer casually calls Kate "Freckles," and the reaction that Elizabeth Mitchell gives Juliet in a nanosecond is a heartbreaking masterwork of acting. Juliet gives up the code to the sonic fence, adding "It's over here for us anyway," (which is laced with duality) and the group breaks up to get ready for their various journeys: some back to the beach with Sawyer, and Kate and Jack with Dan to Hostiletown. (Another thought on my wild ass guess about the fax - if indeed it was Jules that sent it, her reaction here would also make sense, in that her concerns about the O6's return, which caused her to send the fax to Dan, are indeed manifesting themselves).

Dan finds young Charlotte on a swing, and what follows is more heartbreak, as he tries to convince the young girl to leave the island with her mom. (Also, this girl appears to be 8 - 10 in 1977. So that would make her close to 40 in our time. Is this part of the whole snafu over the age discrepancy between actress Rebecca Mader and the character Charlotte?) Charlotte tells Dan that "I'm not allowed to have chocolate before dinner," which sadly, were also her last words when she died from time sickness. Sniff.

Jack, Kate and Dan are gearing up, and fortunately for them, Dharma likes to make sure that all the guns are polished, so Jack the Janitor has a key to the weapons locker. What follows is a wonderfully directed action sequence, that leaves Dan shot in the neck (a graze), and the Dharma folks dealing with a compound explosion.

This is followed by a misty-eyed scene in which adult, addled Dan is encouraged by Mommy Dearest to take Widmore's offer. Davies really excels at conveying Dan's hope and vulnerability here.

We go back to the jungles of 1977, and at the fence, Dan utters something that seems simple on the surface, yet is laced with time travel conundrums:

"You gotta understand, Jack, this is our present. When we met, did I have a scar on my neck? No. 'Cause I hadn't been shot yet. We can't be so naive as to think nothing can happen to us. Any one of us can die, Jack. "

That's the question (?) we've been facing all season. This is the "present" and ongoing timeline for the individuals who have been transported into the past, and they can die. Yet, at the same time, if Lost's theory of time mechanics is as we think, then all the events where the Losties interacted with the past have already happened, and the future has already unfolded with them having been there. We've seen Dan vacillate on exactly how much he thinks events can be changed. Is it his hope that he can change the past, or a valid theory?

Sawyer and Juliet have a moment, well played by both Mitchell and Holloway, where they ask if the other "has my back." They're interrupted by consistent douchenozzle Radzinsky, who amusingly screams he was "just shot by a physicist!" They hear Phil (still in the closet), and it appears their jig is up.

We then cut to a conversation with Jack, Kate and Dan, where Dan lays it all out for them:

"In about four hours, the DHARMA folks at the swan work site--they're gonna--gonna drill into the ground and accidentally tap into a massive pocket of energy. The result of the release of this energy would be catastrophic. So in order to contain it, they're gonna have to cement the entire area in, like Chernobyl. And this containment--the place they built over it--I believe you called it "the Hatch." The Swan hatch? Because of this one accident, these people are gonna spend the next 20 years keeping that energy at bay... by pressing a button... a button that your friend Desmond will one day fail to push, and that will cause your plane--Oceanic 815--to crash on this island. And because your plane crashed, a freighter will be sent to this Island--a freighter I was on and Charlotte was on and so forth. This entire chain of events--it's gonna start happening this afternoon. But... we can change that. I studied relativistic physics my entire life. One thing emerged over and over--can't change the past. Can't do it. Whatever happened, happened. All right? But then I finally realized... I had been spending so much time focused on the constants, I forgot about the variables. Do you know what the variables in these equations are, Jack?"

Did the "20 years" part strike anyone else as strange? If we take this at face value, knowing that Oceanic 815 crashed in 2004, that would mean the button pushing started in 1984, which is 7 years from the time where the Losties are currently. Does this mean that the event that happens in 4 hours will take 7 years to "handle?" That it will take 7 years to concrete in the site and enact the button protocol? Hmmmm.

Dan offers that "we" (meaning people) are "the variable." We have free will and control over our destinies. So he wants to detonate Jughead, to stop the Swan from being built, which will negate the need for the button, which means 815 will land in LA. Under this theory, what will happen to the Losties currently ON the island? Does this mean they will continue to live out their lives, while "duplicates" continue on in another parallel strand of time? Or will there be a "flash" which takes them from this location and this timeline forward and onto the plane, with no memory of what has transpired on the island? Dan never makes that clear.

Back to Penny and Hawking chatting in the hospital:
  • Hawking says that as of this moment, she's, for the first time in a long time, unsure of what's going to happen next. Could this be because her foreknowledge of events has come from Dan's journal (which she might have obtained back on the island in 1977), essentially "stopped" chronologically off island when he sent Des to go find her?
  • Penny inexplicably leaves little Charlie with a nurse, while she goes to see Des. Look, I'm not a parent, but if a bug eyed lunatic shows up at my boat to shoot my husband and me, the last thing I'm going to do is leave my son with a random nurse.
Outside the hospital, Hawking is met by Widmore, where we learn that Dan was not only Hawking's son, but her son WITH WIDMORE. So...
  • Penny and Dan are at least half-siblings (we don't yet know who is Penny's mom).
  • How many other people know this? It doesn't appear that Dan even knows this. We know that Darlton are fans of Star Wars, so at least there wasn't an early scene with Dan and Penny kissing.
  • Was Eloise pregnant with Dan when Widmore was exiled from the island by Ben?
This brings us to the climax, where Dan walks into the camp of the Others. Dan, who admittedly was a "beginner" with guns, is still carrying a pistol. He wants to speak with Eloise, whom Richard says is not there. Richard asks the same question of Dan that he did with Sawyer/LaFleur, "do we know each other?" (Remember that they briefly met back in the 50s, when Jughead was just "hanging around.") Dan gets increasingly twitchy, and starts to countdown from 3, in yet another allusion to a ticking clock, before GETTING SHOT IN THE BACK AND KILLED BY HIS MOM, ELOISE. As Dan collapses, dying, the realization tragically comes to him that:

"Eloise. You knew. You always knew. You knew this was gonna happen. You sent me here anyway."

1977 Eloise doesn't realize until then that she just shot her son. But now she does, and all her actions from 1977 forward will be with the knowledge that she will keep Dan on his path of scientific discovery and development, only to have him time travel back to the island to get shot and killed by her hand in this moment (in his linear timeline).

So the question becomes, does Eloise choose the path she does for Daniel in order to preserve this chain of events, in order to "make it so?" Or, does she choose the path she does for Daniel with the hopes that he can use his smarts and capabilities to prevent this moment from happening?

It's heady, tragic and ironic stuff here, and we don't yet know enough about Eloise's affiliations and motives to discern. It's so well written, and so well played, because we can believe that Hawking is a pure, hardcore follower of time continuity that she steeled up and set her son on a path to his doom -- at her own hand! Or, that she believes in the "variability" of the timelines, and all her actions were to actually avoid this moment, and sadly, those actions were in vain and "whatever happened, happened." Either way, it makes for great drama and poses even more questions, which is the great thing about Lost, after all.

RIP, Twitchy.



  1. Yeah, I tried to think of any possible way that Daniel makes it through this, but I think this was it for him. Kudos to Jeremy Davies for knocking Daniel's farewell episode out of the park.

    Part of what I love about this show is that even people like you and me who obsess over this show, watch each episode multiple times, etc....still don't know where we are headed next, and there are multiple directions that the story could go that would still make sense. Great storytelling.

    I'll say this, though...if the last scene is Flight 815 landing safely at LAX, as some are speculating based on what Daniel said to Jack and Kate, I'm gonna be pissed. I don't think that's what is going to happen, because I trust the writers/producers too much.

    Great writeup, as always...


  2. Thank you kind sir. I SERIOUSLY hope we don't end at "it never happened." That would so cheapen everything we've witnessed, and I can't believe Darlton would go there.

    I think Dan is indeed dead, but I hope we get to "see" him in future eps, via another mechanism (flashback, etc.). He's that good.