Friday, 23 January 2009

Lost s05e01 - Discussion - "Great Scott!"

Or "Oh Boy", the catchphrase of Back to The Future's televisual cousin Quantum Leap. That's right folks. After years of being teased with characters who could maybe or possibly have travelled a little bit in time, even if it's just their consciousness, we now have full blown Delorean driving, Phonebooth riding, Crater-in-the-carpark leaving TIME TRAVEL! If the labyrinthine plot of Lost events on and off-island so far wasn't enough to cope with, they've now opened up a forth dimension for potential mind-fuckery.

Bringing this aspect to the show comes with it's consequences though, as I'm sure it'll lose ratings as it slips one further step from a drama the casual viewer can watch and enjoy, and one closer to it's hardcore following of nerds. Notice that I didn't make a distinction in sex there though, which the producers of the show apparently do. The decision to have Sawyer topless for the first two episodes was to try to maintain the female audience's interest during these romance plot-lacking times. I don't know about other males reading, but when I'm worried women might not be paying attention, the first thing I do is take off my cardigan. I often do presentations in just my vest and socks, especially when talking about the more technical aspects of my work. Perhaps they should have got Jennifer Aniston to arrive on the island instead, so that she could just whisper 'This is the science bit, concentrate' before each time Daniel speaks.

Regardless, all that I'm concerned about is how the time-travelling process has made Sawyer put on weight. I guess that Davidoff money buys a lot of pies. Either that or there's a plot-hole, and we won't get to see how he was diverted to the time-travelling DHARMA bakery until Season six. Anyway, I feel I'm jumping in time in myself with this account of the episode so let's start at the beginning.

We finally get to see Mister Wickmund/Candle/Halliwax rendered at a better quality than crackly Super8 or cine-film can achieve, and learn his real name: Pierre Chang. Hardly exciting stuff, but what follows definitely is. After a nice sequence showing how his breakfast routine on island isn't as perfect as Desmond's in the season two opener, we see his filming of an orientation film, complete with Sawyer-alike cameraman, interrupted by some kind of disturbance at the Orchid station. Upon arriving there Chang gets to show audiences that he's not employed as the face of DHARMA just for the 'alternative medicine' baggage his ethnicity brings with him, and gets to prove his scientist worth yelling about the possibilities of time travel to a burly man digging the DHARMA Tunnel.

Chang Wickdlewax has a baby, the suspected identity of which demonstrates Lost's fanbase's lazy habit of always jumping on race as a method of grouping characters. In the past we've had the black child in the house that's visited by Miles being the son of also-black Mister Ecko, and Walt himself being a younger Ecko somehow. There's even been suggestions that Sun and Jin are related to Chang previously, or that he is a rival or her father's company. Maybe it's because the show does often make huge assumptions about stereotypes, or that they know that they've got an audience that will. In this instance, many assume the baby will grow up to be also-asian Miles, and his mother is obviously being considered a sister/mother/clone of Sun. I'm in no way suggesting the writers have some hidden agenda with the show though, the characters' other physical qualities also define other tangible aesthetic groups. Back in season one when the then-monikered 'Sea-Billies' stole Walt from the raft, the origin of the blonde woman who threw the device that blows up their raft was under much speculation, but it never really amounted to more than scouring the cast for other yellow-haired folk. 'Molotov woman' was rumoured to be an older Shannon, or Claire sans baby.

Whether or not all these connections made by fans will ultimately turn out to be true, the show is definitely made with the understanding that these things are implied. When Juliet turned up in Season 3 looking similar to Jack's ex-wife, she tells him that it's no coincidence that Ben sent a blonde that is reminiscent of her to try to win him over. Similarly, the producers deliberately cast ever actor because of their ethnicity, hair colour, height, weight and age because in a show where the minutiae of each episode is poured over, these factors are as legitimate as a prop or some incidental music, and as important as a line of dialogue.

Good grief, I'm seven paragraphs in and the opening credits haven't even run yet. Chang talks about 'rules that can't be broken', echoing Ben's discussion with Jim Robinson about the murder of his daughter by tiny-mouthed Keemy, and shoots down the DHARMA-driller's suggestion of killing Hitler. Seeing as none of the cast of Lost have moustaches we can assume that we won't be able to knock-off any of his descendants, clones or younger-versions-of either. Or at least not till Season six.

But we knew all this, and nothing so far is a great revelation. My jaw is very much shut. I'm hoping to get more than someone just talking about time travel this series, and so far nothing particularl... HANG ON! Isn't that DANIEL from the freighter and now island? HOW DID HE? WHA? Is this this the present or the past? To echo Charlie's series premier closer, "Guys, where the fuck are we?"

It's all quite simple. It seems the Islanders are now floating in time, or that the island is. But not the Others. Locke is, despite being an Other. Richard is at some points, and apparently not at others. There are rules about it that mean nothing can be changed, except Desmond is exempt from this and can. Perhaps it's his game, like when people play Monopoly and everyone has to accept the ridiculous variations by which everyone plays it. Do you have to auction up a house if you land on it and don't want to buy it? Or it's his birthday, and so no-one minds if he sneaks a few extra houses on Old Kent Road. They're shit anyway, and there's no way he's going to win. It's like that, but time-travel. Simple.

Because it's so complex, you have to be real fan to even grasp the basic events that take place in this episode. With every time the survivors end up in, the surroundings they find themselves in denote different periods of the show and it's mythology. If there's a hatch they could be in any time from the 1970s. If it's got Desmond in it it's 2001-2004. If it's uncovered it's 2004. If it's blown up it's post 2004. If there are barracks it could be any time since the 60s, but if the people living there aren't wearing DHARMA uniforms it's post-purge and therefore post 1993. If the barracks are empty it's post 2005. If you're still reading and haven't just skimmed through my listing of dates and events, thanks very much.

This all makes figuring out what's going on on-island quite difficult, but for the possibilities in the storytelling I think it's worth it. If the islanders are taking part in events we've previously seen from other perspectives, and bearing in mind the much-mentioned point that 'nothing can be changed', who's to say they've not been seen previously, creeping about so as not to be seen in the background. Remember back in season 2 when the tail-section survivors considered The Others to be mysterious, almost ghost-like beings that walked barefoot and didn't leave tracks? That didn't turn out to fit with how the Crazy Cult Member Others turned out to be, but what if it's because there were Other Other's? If the time-traveling survivors have to be careful so as not to be noticed, what better way to creep around than barefoot?

This also puts a different perspective on other events in the show's past. If the survivors succumb to the obvious want to change the fate of some 815-ers, who's to say they're not related to the whispers that are heard in the show, often around times of dramatic incident? Maybe it's Sawyer, Juliet etc standing behind trees going "Pssssssst!!! Shannon! Someone's coming to fucking shoot you!" But, you know, a bit more mysterious and etherial. Maybe when past characters re-appear in what we have generally dismissed as imaginary or dream sequences, it's an actual message from the future and not just another day of paid-work for Boon.

Someone who seems to have moved from a guest start to cast regular is Richard 'Eyeliner' Alpert, who turns up during Locke's travels to pull a bullet out of his leg. Locke's journey seems to have similarities with Desmond's in previous seasons, as it is hinted that there's some connection to his consciousness as he jumps through time. He appears to be affected by 'other' Locke's, at different time periods or locations. When he approaches the crashed drug-plane and gets shot in the leg by Ethan, is this the reason his legs failed back in season one when he was in the same location? Were those wounds echoes from the past? When Alpert hands him a compass it links their encounter up with the one he had/will have/is currently having as a child when he is offered the different items and asked "Which one do you already own?" Are these events happening simultaneously, or will Locke end up regressed to a child as his next destination in time?

As for the off-island activity, I couldn't really give a fuck. Just as last season some of the cast were untouchable once we realised they were destined to leave the island, now that they have to go back we all know they're going to have to survive. No matter how many awesome killer washing-machines Sayid can kill people with, it's never going to be exciting seeing the characters run around like a sub-plot from 24. I'm sure it'll be thrilling in parts, but this feels very much like the 'let's lock them in cages for six episodes' plan from the beginning of season three. Plus, Jack should have kept that beard.


  1. Damn, Sawyer got fat.

    Daniel is essentially a walking plot device for the next few episodes. The other characters have all quietly accepted their bizarro fate without questioning and even Juliet completely didn't comment on Daniel basically calling them all dumb-asses when Sawyer asked for his shirt.

    With Daniel in the show, you'll get no answeres and will need to have a physics glossary to hand, but there's been plenty of foreshadowing that even non 'LOST' nerds like myself have noticed. If I'm right, then the shirt thing is gonna be a long running gag, poor fat Sawyer will keep losing his shirt everytime the island 'moves'.

    Anyway, I'm gonna include a brief quantum physics cheat sheet, I am not a theoretical physicists but I know people who are who watch Lost. Go figure.

    Essentially, we're looking at a 'closed loop' of time, which can be self referential but cannot change.

    There has been loads and loads of foreshadowing where Daniel has damn near written wikipedia entries of time travel theories written on his black board and in his notepad.
    Of these we're mostly gonna see the 'Kerr Metric' and the 'Novikov self-consistency principle'.

    The Kerr metric basically explains away the possiblity of time travel, and the Novikov self consistency principle explains why you can't actually CHANGE events from the past. Even if you try.

    I'm going to attempt what Daniel couldn't be fucked to do with Sawyer's fat ass and try and quickly outline what these ideas are - with the caveat that I don't really understand it myself and that it's probably complete bollocks.

    The Kerr metric basically supports a 'closed loop' theory of time. Which Daniel explained as a sort of record player. Basically time as a factor of the physical world rotates around massive bodies or spheres. Roughly speaking, this effect predicts that objects coming close to a rotating mass will be forced to participate in its rotation, not because of any applied force or torque that can be felt, but rather because the curvature of spacetime associated with rotating bodies. At close enough distances, all objects — even light itself — must rotate with the body; the region where this holds is called the ergosphere. The Kerr metric appears a bunch of times on Daniel's blackboard, it explains the POSSIBILITY of time travel and is supported (evidence wise) by some of the weirder shit that goes on in the universe (rotating black holes and the like)

    The other one - the Novikov self consistency dealy is more exciting for a writer.

    The Novikov consistency principle asserts that if an event exists that would give rise to a paradox, or to any "change" to the past whatsoever, then the probability of that event is zero.

    Which means, no matter how hard you try and change something, now matter how simple or small that event is, a series of massive and bizarre coincidences will transpire so that that change does not occur. You - however - operate outside of this. We're looking at some 'Final Destination' type weirdness, death by massive massive coincidence. Which I always find funny. We're talking MASSIVE coincidences, the writers can damn near do anything they want with this.

    Here's a wikipedia quote
    Novikov discussed the possibility of CTC's in books written in 1975 and 1983, offering the opinion that only self-consistent trips back in time would be permitted. In a 1990 paper written by a number of authors including Novikov, Cauchy problem in spacetimes with closed timelike curves[1], the authors write:
    The only type of causality violation that the authors would find unacceptable is that embodied in the science-fiction concept of going backward in time and killing one's younger self ("changing the past"). Some years ago one of us (Novikov10) briefly considered the possibility that CTC's might exist and argued that they cannot entail this type of causality violation: Events on a CTC are already guaranteed to be self-consistent, Novikov argued; they influence each other around a closed curve in a self-adjusted, cyclical, self-consistent way. The other authors recently have arrived at the same viewpoint.
    We shall embody this viewpoint in a principle of self-consistency, which states that the only solutions to the laws of physics that can occur locally in the real Universe are those which are globally self-consistent. This principle allows one to build a local solution to the equations of physics only if that local solution can be extended to a part of a (not necessarily unique) global solution, which is well defined throughout the nonsingular regions of the spacetime.

    Both theories are compatible with Godel's theory's or the Gödel metric - as we all know Gödel is the master of the 'strange loop' which might be quite cool to see on screen. Jack shoulda kept that beard.

  2. Damn. That there is some heavy assed physics.

    Fantastic post Toby!

  3. Christ - this is almost too much for my puny brain to cope with. I read a couple of 'interesting' LOST blog posts about this at the weekend. The simplest way to describe it I found was the the island is shifting back and forth through time, but the majority of the inhabitants are not. They are stuck in the present (2004 or whatever) whilst the island moves back and forth 'around' them.

    Locke seems to be the only one who is able to move with the island. He is special as we know. He has a connection to the island. Hell maybe he is the island and this is some kind of fantasy flashing through his mind Bobby Ewing style. Anyway, aside from the time travel, a few things I found interesting / questions.

    Firstly, despite the island shifting through time, it is still an island - i.e a massive body of matter. Going back and forth through time doesn't mean a change in location, so why did the island disappear??? We know the island is capable of displacement, Ben's desert visit is proof...but what the fuck??

    Secondly, the guys who held up Sawyer (fat is the new thin, seems I've been ahead of the zeitgeist for years - I knew it would happen eventually) and Juliette were dressed in army fatigues, not as far as I could tell Dharma clobber. Was this another side to the islands history that we haven't seen before? Was some kind of invasion what turned the others nasty?

    Finally for now, Jekyll Island. This is the name of the beer that the beardy pilot dude pulls out of the fridge. I did some searching on it, and a blog filled me in. It is a real island off the coast of the US and A, but also a shady money making organisation to do with federal reserves and all sorts of other financial stuff that my brain also can't compute. It could be an interesting parallel to the super rich Widmore. More here...

    This blog also suggests that Dharma suits have been found for all the Oceanic 6 (Hurley was a chef, surprise surprise) suggesting that they may have played a key role on the island in a previous time, and they are needed back to complete their work and save the island and its inhabitants. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  4. Ah! Good point Ferg about what roles they'll play as part of Dharma. I'm pretty sure we'll get a Back to The Future style photo of the 'class of 1974' off-island soon, and it'll have Sawyer in it.

    As for the beer, I think it's probably just a clever prop. Wasn't it Doctor Moreau who had an island though? Jekyl and Hyde was set in London surely?

  5. Guys, who is the weird blonde old lady in the church? The one making calculations on the basement? We did saw her before right? and the butcher girl?

  6. Shhhh Pabs. That's episode two. I'll post a review later in the week.

    (It's Mrs Hawkings. Desmond met her in the ring shop when she wouldn't allow him to buy a ring. She's Daniel's mother, being English, and Desmond will have to go meet her in Oxford.)

  7. Daniel's mother is called Mrs. Hawkings? Ok.
    Yeah Ferg I hear you about the disappearing thing, the only thing I can think of is one of the main problems with time travel. For time travel to work in the way it does in the movies you'd also have to move in space. What with the earth moving around the sun and rotating and all if you were to go back in time by six months without also moving in space you'd find yourself pretty cold and alone. I say 'you' because this shit doesn't apply to me. As the universe actually revolves around me I'm fine.

  8. can't we just meet in a pub and talk about this? is seems so long winded going about it in this way

    great post though Toby very long though it's literally taken a week to read it...bring on tomorrow