Friday, July 3, 2009

Course Correcting Lost

"Doing time travel is a little bit like dating a beautiful girl. It seems really attractive at first and really fun and then you discover that she's high maintenance. Then you discover that she's actually psychotic, and you can't extricate yourself from the relationship. It seemed really alluring at the beginning of the season. By the end of the season we were like 'whew!' We just wanted to escape with our lives."
- Carlton Cuse
Back in April I attempted to tackle this topic with Lost Versus The Temporal Paradox but I just read over that and I didn't explain it well enough. I need to simplify my position. Please understand that's almost impossible given the subject matter. Temporal physics is widely theoretical. Some would argue that at best it is speculative fiction and at worst it's not science at all. Many scientists presume that time travel is not even possible. It's like assuming a comic strip character could magically lift himself off the newsprint and walk around in our three dimensional universe.

We are in fact traveling through time right now at one second per second. You may notice if you are in a fast car or a moving train, that outside it appears that people and things not going your speed and your direction are moving more slowly. In fact they are. Einstein's theory of relativity proves that. The faster you travel, the slower time moves around you. This is essentially why the GPS guys have to resynchronize their clocks with the ones floating in geostationary orbit out in space. Time outside the atmosphere of the planet Earth differs from time here on the ground.

On television, or in the movies, or even in your favorite novel, time works on even more absurd levels of rules. First there's the actual time you use to experience a story. For example, in the first few seasons of Lost we estimate that the average episode reveals to us approximately three days on the Island, however it takes us less than an hour to experience any single episode. This is not consistent w/other shows by the way. Time works differently for all shows but I'm concentrating on Lost right now.

Secondly, time differs inside the show itself. The writers could have chosen to pull a fast one. They could have made us think time worked one way for a given episode, and then for another episode it would work differently. However, for the first few seasons they were mostly consistent w/audience perceptions of time. One episode per every three days, give or take. This is in regards the 'present day' storytelling. Flashbacks are a whole other can of worms. In fact, in some episodes there were flashbacks that gave us information of events transpiring on the Island while other events we already knew about were going on. You can look over a very detailed time line over at . Wherever possible, the producers of Lost were careful to give us visual and auditory clues to explain when and where they deviated temporally, and how that affected the story. We could tell after a dramatic sound cue and cutaway, that now we're no longer viewing events on the Island, but instead have been transported to Sydney Australia days before the 815 Crash, or years before based on costuming choices, references to calendars or watches, various props and location choices, etc.

Late into season four, things got dramatically different. Some of our Losties left the Island and went home. Other Losties remained on the Island and began to experience temporal distortions that caused them to end up in the same place on the Island, but in different times, and the island was also shifting in space relative to the rest of Earth. This was about the time we were introduced to the idea of Fast Forwards in which some events the producers opted to show us revealed information about what would happen after events currently going on, on the Island.

There were practical reasons why some of these temporal changes occurred. The first has to do with aging. The actor playing Walt started as a little kid, but hit a growth spurt by the end of season two, making it difficult for him to continue playing the part of a child who had aged less than a couple months. So both he and Michael were written out of the story. Walt has been seen very little since then, but usually in the context of years after September 2004, to explain why the actor/character now looks like a young man. Elements such as these simply compounded the extraordinary difficulty the producers had in conveying to we the viewers just where and when each scene was taking place. To combat that, the cast & crew of Lost rose to the challenge. To the best of anyone's ability, I think they were successful, but it's understandable that a large chunk of the audience is still in the dark; still a little.. lost.

In season four, it was explained the Oceanic Six were on the mainland approximately three years. Maybe four. In season five, it was explained that after multiple time hops, Sawyer and his group of survivors hung out in Dharmaville for approximately three years. Maybe four. This means that even though our characters have been separated, when they reunite late in season five, they are all about the same ages as they would have been had they all shared the same normal linear time frame. Maybe they differ several weeks, or months, even close to a year, but not a noticeable time difference. By the way this also means the Losties have now aged about as much as we have, give or take a bit. So if any of the actors look their age, they can show it now, cuz they're supposed to be about the same age they currently are. They can even bring Walt back now if they wanted, because by now the actor would be the right age. They just can't do any flashbacks involving Walt without some camera trickery or CGI.

In fact it's possible that when the crash of Ajira 316 happened, Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid were returned to the island at precisely the second they would have been on the Island had they never left. This brings me.. to Course Correcting.

In the episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes" Desmond meets Mrs. Hawking for his first time, although she seems to recognize him. She tells him that he can't marry Penny, because he's always meant to end up on that island and if he doesn't go, "time has a way of course correcting." If he's destined to do something, it's going to happen, because whatever happened happened and when the island is done with you, it'll kill you. Dead is dead. Up until the island is done with you, you can in theory live forever, but if you're meant to die, you're going to die. Charlie and Desmond learn this first hand, when Desmond begins seeing premonitions of Charlie's death, tries to save him, only to learn he's postponing the inevitable.

Now this is the crux of our problem with time travel on Lost. Many viewers of the show are expecting time travel to behave on Lost the way it does for most television and film. However, it can't. We are used to time travel like on Back to the Future, where you can go back in time and accidentally your own mother gets smitten by you, neglects your future father, so they never get married and you never get born. That's a paradox. The writers on Lost have gone out of their way to avoid paradoxes, even to establish that time doesn't allow them. If you go back in time and try to kill yourself, the gun will jam, or the piano will not fall fast enough, or your younger self will happen to take a drink of a canteen just as the blade flies towards his head. You will not die, because you can't.

People see this on the show and think "The Island" is doing this. It is not. TIME is doing this. During Meet Kevin Johnson, there are times when Michael should by all rights be very dead, but he doesn't die. He can't die, until he's successfully slowed the bomb enough for the Oceanic Six to get rescued, because he was always meant to do that.

Ben says to Jack that he was never meant to leave the Island. From this we are to infer that there was a previous timeline in which he never did, but that something happened to change events. Viewers see this and presume that means there are multiple timelines in which other events have transpired, but there are no other timelines. There is only one timeline.

Look at a body of water. There may be ripples or waves. Perhaps it is still. If you throw a rock into the body of water, it will disrupt the surface of the water temporarily, but it won't cause the water to change irrevocably, and after a bit of wave dispersion, it will return to its previous tranquil state. Time on the television series Lost doesn't operate like something that can be molded and shaped on a whim. Time on Lost also doesn't behave like something that's solid and impossible to alter. Time is fluid. However, once something happens, it happens. What we are essentially witnessing as we see the events of Lost unfold before us, is we are watching a large body of water from late fall into early winter, as it slowly freezes over. Once a part of the ice has frozen over, it remains where and how it is. Once the writers tell us something that happened on Lost, to the best of their ability, they're going to keep it that way. However, in areas they have not yet explained to us, the lake hasn't yet frozen over, so they can still reveal information to us that explains how the other pieces fit together. By the end of the series, the metaphorical lake will be completely frozen over. and we'll see a finished whole.

Many viewers assume that at the end of season five, Juliet was successful at causing the bomb to explode by banging on it repeatedly with a rock. After Sayid and Jack had so roughly traversed with it across a great distance, and after that same bomb fell into a large gaping hole. If that bomb was ever going to go off, it would have gone off long before Juliet banged on it eight times. What we thought was an explosion, when everything went white, was actually another temporal hop - most probably to present day where UnLocke, Ben, Richard, Sun, and the fallen Jacob are awaiting their arrival.

Why? Because The Incident never involved a nuclear explosion. It involved an electromagnetic disturbance that was caused not by our Losties, but by Radzinsky foolishly continuing drilling into the anomaly underground. That always happened. That was always going to happen, whether the Losties were there or not.

Because even though some unnatural things or people have obviously been manipulating events and people for unspecified ends, time has a way of course correcting. You may be able to postpone an event from happening but if it's meant to happen, it will happen. Eventually.

This explains everything on Lost. It explains why Richard hasn't died. It explains why Charlie had to. It explains why Locke could walk on the Island and it explains the times when he could not. It explains why Jin met Danielle. It explains why Hurley is exceedingly lucky. It explains why Susan was such a jerk to Michael. It explains why Juliet was brought to the Island. Not because of The Island, but because of temporal distortion. Time and destiny.

There was perhaps an original timeline before the distortion. A timeline in which events as we know them now transpired a little differently. Maybe Desmond was the one to die underwater at the hands of Patchy, but because Desmond saved Charlie multiple times, Charlie was there to take Desmond's place, allowing him a chance to be with Penny for awhile and have their son. Maybe that didn't happen in the original timeline. We'll never know, because that original timeline without these temporal distortions is gone forever, like a summer rain erasing a chalked hopscotch game off a sidewalk.
"We did dig this whole notion of fate and destiny. You know, can you change the future. How much of their lives is pre-ordained? The big question the audience should have going into the final season of the show is what is the destiny of these characters, and the degree to which that destiny feels pre-ordained is something that we wanted to explore."
- Carlton Cuse
Carlton Cuse mentions whether the lives of these characters is preordained. A lot of Lost fans I talk with speak of destiny and how these characters don't have any control over their lives, then they say they don't understand why, for example, Jack would say no to saving little Ben when we already saw him say yes to saving bigger Ben. I find this frustrating. He had a choice, but given the events, there was only one choice he could make.

People think of destiny as something that is cut and dried. If you are meant to do something it's because you have no control over what you do. However, destiny is far more complex. Your control over your own destiny is what you make of it. If you choose never to leave your house, you were always meant to stay inside, because that's what you do. Maybe something happened in your childhood to make you agoraphobic. Maybe you're just lazy. Whatever the reason, your psychological make up is how you choose your behavior. Not destiny. Now, there are things that happen outside your realm of control that will also influence your choices. The choices of others for example. You can be manipulated, but those manipulations are also 'destined' to happen, by the choices of whatever causes them, or by the physical laws of nature.

Jack has an opportunity to save Ben twice. Jack gave older Ben the benefit of the doubt, and saved him from cancer. Then when Jack was sent back in time, he had a second opportunity to save Ben. Jack chose not to, because of Ben's reaction to Jack's saving him the first time. In that, Jack broke his Hippocratic oath, but he felt justified in not saving young Ben, because of old Ben's behavior. Jack had no motivation for saving Ben as a child, because of Ben's behavior as an adult.

Faraday decides to try and change history, and time sets into motion events that lead Faraday's own mother to shoot him dead, to keep him from changing history. Or so it would seem. How much of this was Faraday's own doing, and how much of it was beyond his control?

Man of Science (Jack). Man of Faith (Locke). Man of Luck (Hugo). How much control do we have, and how much control is beyond our capacity? If we run from our fate (Kate), will it catch up to us inevitably? If we try to con fate (Sawyer), are we destined to fail to outwit it? In the equation of life, are the constants variable (Desmond), or are the variables a constant (Faraday)? Are we destined to fail, like Faraday at the barrel of his own mother's gun, or are we able to put off the inevitable long enough to change history, like when Desmond saved Charlie long enough to allow Charlie to choose to die a hero and not a fool? And was Charlie always meant to die the way he did, or did he replace Desmond? Was Desmond destined to die at the hands of Patchy underwater, or did Desmond inadvertently use Charlie as a sacrifice, so that he may live? Did Locke do the same with Boone, either on purpose or accidentally? Was Locke meant to die when Boone did, had Locke been alone investigating that plane?

This is what Darlton & the cast & crew of Lost have been exploring. Are our lives fated, or do we choose our fate, by the seemingly inconsequential choices we make every day? And if we do what we can to change our own fate, will events around us that we can't control force us into alignment anyway? Does anything we do make any difference?

Either Blackie or Jacob threw a very big hot rock into the placid lake as it was icing up for the winter. Whichever one did, the other one has actively sought to fix things.. To 'patch them up' if you will. You can throw as many hot rocks into the metaphoric lake as you want, but winter is coming, and that lake is gonna freeze over. Nothing can change that. It's fate. Just as surely as a year from now, Lost will be over.

No comments: