Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Island Needs a Constant...

One of the more provocative speculations this off-season has been Doc Jensen's that turning the Frozen Donkey Wheel moved the Island into the past. This possibility got a boost from recent promos apparently depicting Daniel Faraday encountering an intact Swan Station. I'm all in favor of such a scenario, which would be a great way of exploring the Dharma Initiative. But because this is Lost, I'll bet there's a twist. What if the Island itself is now unstuck in time?

All indications are that the Island is accessible via one or more wormholes. People passing through the wormhole(s) risk becoming unstuck in time like Desmond and Minowski. This presumably is what Ethan meant when he warned Juliet that the trip to the Island can be "intense." Turning the Frozen Donkey Wheel apparently moved the Island through a wormhole to whenever they are now. If people can become unstuck by wormhole travel, maybe the Island can as well.

But what could it mean for the Island to be unstuck in time? In the Constant, Desmond's consciousness jumped between various points in his past. I'm guessing that an unstuck Island will do much the same. Its "consciousness" will oscillate between key periods in the Island's history. People and things from different times will appear, interact, then disappear like ghosts. I have in mind somethng like Jacob's cabin, which may already be similarly unstuck.

Here's where things get really whackadoo. According to the Constant, people unstuck in time must find someone or something to reorient themselves. Desmond's constant was Penny; Dan's is apparently Desmond. In the case of Jacob's cabin, I'll bet that ash-like circle serves as a kind of temporal anchor. I believe the Island's constant was the Swan Station until it imploded. That may even be why Swan was originally built -- the Incident unstuck the Island previously.

If so, the Island needs a new constant to resolve its temporal confusion. Maybe that's the Oceanic 6, as a group, which is why they all need to return together. I'm guessing, however, that there's another Dharma station, either on the Island or somewhere else across the planet, capable of exerting the same stabilizing force the Swan once did. Finding it will be the key to the Oceanic 6 getting back to the Island...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Casting Spoiler: Patrick Fischler

I don't usually report on spoilers. Recently, however, a deep throat within the Lost production empire clued me into a casting spoiler with some potentially interesting implications for the direction of the show. I have it on good authority that Patrick Fischler of AMC's critically acclaimed Mad Men will be playing a character in episode 5x08, which is currently filming in Hawaii.

Fischler is an extremely talented actor whose work on Mad Men was recently praised in a New York Times Magazine story about the show. My source was uncertain what role Fischler would play on Lost, but I do have my own speculation. Something about Fischler's nervous energy reminds me of Daniel Faraday, who's so ably portrayed by Jeremy Davies.

That brings me to the above-mentioned implications for the direction of the show. The casting call for episode 5x08 mentions a "[s]mart, hippy-ish, well-trained doctor who finds himself thrown into a situation outside of his medical experience and has to adjust." Many, myself included, have been hoping the hippy reference means we'll be seeing more Dharma flashbacks this season.

The Fischler spoiler supports this speculation, albeit indirectly and with some inferential leaps. Remember the recent Comic-Con video wherein we met Dr. Pierre Chang? The voice off-camera who converses with Chang sounds an awful lot like Daniel Faraday. At the time, I suggested that Dan the Man might eventually travel back in time, becoming Chang's "reliable source."

Now, however, I have to wonder. What if Fischler, who reminds me of Daniel Faraday, will instead be playing his father, a Dharma Initiative doctor?

UPDATE: I've learned that Fischler will not, in fact, be playing the hippy-ish (hopefully Dharma) doctor in episode 5x08. Instead, he will be one of the two characters in "corporate security," though I'm unsure which. Either way, it looks unlikely he'll be Daniel Faraday's daddy. Oh well, it was a great speculation for the 24 hours it lasted...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Key to the Whole Game...

Many of the most important lines on Lost are delivered to, or through, the character of Hurley. One example I've discussed previously is "you make your own luck," which we first heard from Martha Toomey and subsequently from Chee-, er, David Reyes. Another is Hurley's own admonishment that "Australia's the key to the whole game" of Risk. In this post, I explain why his warning may actually be an ironic reference to the Island.

For those unfamiliar, Risk is a game of global strategy and conquest. Players begin by placing armies in various countries, then compete to take over the world. The player who starts in "Australasia" has a natural advantage because that region is the most defensible. Here's an hilarious riff by comedian Eddie Izzard on how Hitler obviously never played Risk. About a minute in, Izzard summarizes why Australasia is so advantageous:

So the literal meaning of Hurley's statement seems clear. But what about the ironic significance I alluded to earlier? Later in the same episode (i.e., 4:9) Ben accuses Charles Widmore of changing the rules of the "game." That could mean many things, but the objective of the game of Risk suggests one highly plausible candidate: world domination. Perhaps the two are vying for control of the planet with "Australia" as the key.

I put "Australia" in quotes because I don't believe the writers were referring to the Land Down Under. It's tempting to think otherwise given the prevalence of Australia in flashbacks. But that's because most of the flashbacks over the first few seasons involved survivors of a flight from Sydney. As the cast has expanded, we've met many characters with no apparent connection at all to Australia, including Desmond, the Others, and Widmore's freighter crew.

In my opinion, the reference was to the Island itself, which is obviously a point of strategic importance to Ben and Widmore both. And what makes the Island the "key" to their "game"? Part of the answer may be its isolation in spacetime, which makes it more defensible like Australasia in Risk. But its real significance was summarized best by Locke, who explained: "It's not an island. It's a place where miracles happen."

Stated another way, the Island is a place where the infinitely improbable is entirely possible, even routine. It's a place where 72 passengers survive a catastrophic plane crash with mostly minor injuries, where terminal cancer and paralysis are cured, where time travel actually happens -- all against preposterously long odds. It's the kind of place one might very well analogize to a "magic box," where dreams become reality.

Ask yourself, why did Dharma pick the Island as the location for their experiments? The secure design of the stations and the the sonic fence around the barracks suggest they knew it was hostile. Bringing people by submarine had to be difficult. Why go to the trouble? Dharma realized the Island is ruled by the physics of the improbable. It's one of the few places they might actually succeed in altering the Valenzetti Equation's grim probability forecast.

If that sounds familiar, you may be a fan of Douglas Adams's works. One technological premise of his Hitchhiker's series is the infinite improbability drive, which exploits quantum mechanics to enable instantaneous travel across the universe. Its activation has all kinds of random and unpredictable side effects -- e.g., turning nuclear missiles into sperm whales and petunias. Now that we know the Island moves, maybe it's really one big infinite improbability drive!

The physics of improbability also resonates with the works of Stanislaw Lem. His novel Solaris, in which cosmonaut Kelvin investigates the fate of scientists studying a sentient planet that manifests their dreams, is a major inspiration for Lost. Another of Lem's short stories features the "improbability automatic," a gun that slays dragons of probability by making them less likely -- again with strange side effects. What was it the Blast Door Map said? "Here be dragons..."

Improbability physics is nonsense, but there's an interesting scientific parallel. General relativity and our everyday experience suggest that the universe is an orderly, predictable place. At the atomic level, however, quite the opposite is true. Quantum mechanics tells us that uncertainty rules the universe at very small scales. Here's a great explanation by physicist Brian Greene of this basic contradiction between general relativity and quantum mechanics:

Like Greene's Quantum Cafe, the Island seems to be a place where the laws of quantum mechanics are experienced even at macroscopic scales. As a result, "there's a chance that things we'd ordinarily think of as impossible can actually happen." The main example Greene discusses is walking through walls. Do you suppose it's just a coincidence that Hurley specifically mentioned (in episode 3:17) that the Flash can "vibrate through walls and stuff"?

That's what makes the Island a "place where miracles happen" and "the key to the whole game" of world domination. Let's just hope our Quantum Cafe doesn't also turn out to be the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

America the Beautiful...

There are no red states, or blue states, only the Island:

Graphic courtesy of the talented Mike Garrett of Triple Point Studios

In all seriousness, I try not to be political on this blog, but something happened yesterday that transcends politics. Much like Barack, I'm a minority, the product of a mixed-race couple, one of whom was an immigrant. I owe everything that I am to the American Dream. Yet I used to secretly scoff when I overheard minorities tell their children that anyone can grow up to be President in America. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd live to see a black man elected Commander-in-Chief. Never have I been so ecstatic to be so wrong...

A few years ago, I went to see the film Legally Blond. As the closing credits rolled, I saw a little Latina girl applauding furiously as her immigrant father smiled and looked on, no doubt dreaming of his daughter's Crimson future. It's important that our children believe they can grow up to be anything they want to be, but that's not enough by itself. To become reality, adults have to believe the dream, too, or it inevitably gets deferred. That's why Barack Obama's election is so key. For the first time since I was a kid, I really believe, in my heart of hearts, that anything is possible in America.