By Adam B. Vary
This week's hella good episode of Lost revolved around a massive, dangling bombshell, and here's another: As that byline above implies, I am not Jeff Jensen, a.k.a. Doc Jensen, a.k.a. your regularly scheduled guide through the wormholes, rabbit-holes, and bottomless hatches of all that is Lost. And unfortunately, unlike all the misdirection and outright deception packed into "Jughead," I'm not kidding. I'm just Asst. Prof. Vary, filling in for Doc Jensen while he tumbles down another secret-for-now, Lost-related rabbit hole. Worry not: He'll be back next week with his regular Doc Jensen column and another episode of Totally Lost (which totally rocks, and you should totally check out), but for now, you're stuck with me, so be kind in the comments.
The deception in "Jughead" started early, with a triple audience fake out in less than three minutes: The opening shot made us think we're on the island, only to reveal it was some unnamed coastal city in the South Pacific, through which Desmond was racing to find a guy named Efren Salonga. (Asst. Prof. Vary extracurricular reference No. 1: Best I can tell, "Efren Salonga" means nothing, but there is a "Salonga monkey," or "Dryas monkey," that Wikipedia tells me is a critically endangered species that may number less that 200. Which probably means nothing, though it did make me think about the ever-diminishing number of nameless Flight 815 survivors on the island. By my count, based on the number of total 815 survivors presented last night— that'd be 20, minus Juliet — there's barely ten "Red Shirts" left alive. Stay safe guys!) Des needed Dr. Salonga, it seems, because Penny was in severe medical distress. "There's a lot of blood," Des told the doctor, and we wondered if she was somehow been struck with the time-travel sickness (or at least I did), until we discovered, nope, it was a wee Hume-Widmore bairn being born on their yacht. Then we jumped to what appears to be the "present" again, more on that in a second — as Des says to his son that out there, in the ocean, close to their vessel is a "very special island" that he left "a long time ago." What? They're back at the island already?! Nope. The island's name: "Great Britain." Yeesh.
It felt to me like the show was telling us "don't automatically take everything we're telling you, or what you think we're telling you, at face value." Like, for example, the notion that the Desmond-Penny story line is taking place at the same time as the Oceanic Six-Ben storyline. The timing would seem to work out — add nine months for Penny's pregnancy to what appears to be the two years their kid has aged and you get just about three years since the island disappeared. But, as Penny put it to Des, why didn't he remember Daniel Faraday until now? If, as we've been led to believe, Faraday confronted Past Desmond on the island pretty much the same day the island went poof, wouldn't Present Desmond's memory have changed when he and the Oceanic Six first arrived on Penny's yacht? And did that last question make any sense to you? (I'm beginning to understand why Doc Jensen's developed that eye twitch — but don't tell him I've noticed it.) I will say that, given all the time-twistiness this year, I am quite grateful the show slowed down this week rather than try to cram Jack, Kate, Ben et. al. into this already story-rich hour, and it bodes well for how Lost's new hop-scotching narrative structure will work this season.
Those fake outs, however, got a wee bit irksome after the fourth one hit us just as the opening act smash cut to its end. After Daniel, Charlotte, and Miles reached the creek with two other survivors, they were ambushed by trip-wire mines and arrow-wielding Others. When their scowling rifle-wielding female leader discovered that Daniel was "in charge," she leveled him with a cold scowl and this seemingly eyebrow-raising comment: "You just couldn't stay away, could you?" Aha, we think, the scowling Other knew Daniel, so he's been on the island, and in this time, before! Wrong again! It turns out that these hostile Others believe the Freighter Folk to be part of a U.S. army battalion that somehow made it to the island a month prior, with a hydrogen bomb in tow.
I had barely any time to get annoyed by the bait-and-switch, since my mind was already screaming "Wuzzah?! So...wait...so the U.S. Army knows about the island too!? And they brought a hydrogen bomb?!" Well, it would seem so. But then again, the Others are a wily bunch, what with the fact that they all can speak Latin, including prodigal daughter Juliet, so who knows how much of their story about the unseen American soldiers is true. Why do the Others speak Latin, you ask? Well, a certain Dr. J. managed to sneak an e-mail to me on this very question from his undisclosed location: "One idea — suggested to me by Joley Wood of powells.com — is that it's a link to the novel Utopia, which was written in Latin. The best bit: The leaders of the Island utopia in the novel were called... Bencheaters. (Ben-cheaters.)" Huh. Me, I just assumed it was because (A) Latin is very old and the island is very old; and (B) pretty much no one else on Earth outside the Vatican is going to understand it. Latin also has an extracurricular resonance for this episode that I'll touch on in a bit.
First, though, let's push through the rest of Desmond's story: Our Scottish hero made it to Oxford, where he was told that the university has no record of a Daniel Faraday. But Des discovers Faraday's old lab anyway, sealed due to "fumigation." (Asst. Prof. Vary extracurricular reference No. 2: The door to the Dept. of Physics that Desmond first entered is labeled "Claredon 142-08," which appears to be a typo, since according to the Oxford University website, the Physics department is housed in the "Clarendon" building. But that number seems to point to the Lost episode from last season that aired on Feb. 14, 2008, "The Economist," i.e. Ben Linus's still un-named target for his assassin Sayid. And a "don" is the common term for both a senior instructor at Oxford and a high ranking member of the Mafia. Perhaps Claire and The Economist are connected? Or maybe the EW L.A. bureau just has some really freaky water in its pipes?) In Faraday's lab, Des found the physicist's old rat maze, brain...ray thingie, and a framed photo of a younger Daniel with a bright, blonde woman. A maintenance man gives Des an ominous, dubious brush off, making Des promise to tell his "mates" that all he found was "rubbish left behind by a madman" before he'll throw Des the address of what turns out to be the woman in that framed photo, one Theresa Spencer. Daniel shot the brain ray thingie at poor Theresa, explains her sister Abigail; her mind's been hopping through time ever since, but that lout Daniel skipped to the States, never to be heard from again. Thank goodness for Charles Widmore, the benefactor of Daniel's research for ten years and the man paying for Theresa's round-the-clock care now. (Asst. Prof Vary extracurricular assignment: Do the names Theresa and Abigail Spencer have any resonance, either within the world of Lost or outside it? I'm drawing blanks.)
Des stormed into Widmore's office for what felt like at least the eleventh time, and demanded that his father-in-law tell him the whereabouts of Daniel Faraday's mama. I'm still parsing how much of what Widmore said next was actually true, and how much was a carefully crafted sham: He asked Desmond, calmly, if his daughter was safe, harkening back to Ben Linus' threat from last season to kill her. He said he hasn't seen Penny for three years. (And since I don't think we know if he'd seen his daughter before the Oceanic 815 crash, it could very well be that Des and Penny's story isn't quite in sync with Jack, Ben and Kate's. If Widmore's telling the truth.) When Widmore got no answer from Des, he gave his son-in-law the address for Faraday's mother anyway...in Los Angeles. She's a "very private person," Widmore told Des. She probably won't be happy to see him. And after Des delivers his message to her, he should just disappear again with Penny, never to involve himself in this matter again.
Hmm. This woman sounds like a certain L.A. church-dwelling, hooded cloak-wearing Ms. Hawking, doesn't it? Yet we know she already knows Desmond, and would probably welcome his arrival. And why would Widmore have her address, if she's working with his arch-nemesis Ben Linus? Also, there's no way Des and Penny are disappearing any time soon — they're in too deep now, and, besides, the show needs them. Who didn't get a bit misty when Des revealed his son's name is Charlie? Who wasn't filled with dread for Penny's future as she reluctantly agreed to go along with Desmond to L.A., because she knows her true love could never let this drop until he'd seen it through? It's this kind of emotional resonance that grounds all the temporal loop-de-hoop-de in something real and human, and the show needs all of it can get.
Another example: Daniel Faraday's spontaneous pronouncement of love for Charlotte as proof to the ageless Richard Alpert that he'll deffuse the H-bomb instead of detonate it. The physicist is clearly quite deep-dish for our fair C.S. Lewis, telling her at the outset of the episode that "Nothing is going to happen to you. Nothing. I won't let it." If I were Sawyer, and I was standing next to Faraday at that moment, I would've slapped the guy upside the head and said "Now why would you say a boneheaded thing like that out loud on this island?!" Because here's my theory: Daniel Faraday's actions are causing Charlotte to disappear from existence, literally making her into nothing. Her head is ringing, and she's getting double-vision. She can't remember her mother's maiden name. Her brain is slipping out of joint with the world. (Asst. Prof. Vary extracurricular reference No. 3: The real C.S. Lewis, i.e. the British author of the Narnia chronicles, watched his American beloved slowly waste away from cancer.)
I'm not sure how, but when Faraday told that scowling Other — who's name we learn is Ellie (Asst. Prof. Vary extracurricular reference No. 4: Eleanor roughly translates to "the other" in Latin) — to bury, bury, bury the leaking H-bomb called Jughead in order to diffuse it, I think he actually did somehow change time. Like I said, not everything we're told should be taken at face value, and since we learned this week that Daniel Faraday's scientific certainty has led to pretty tragic results, his conviction that time cannot ever, ever be changed seems suspect too. Was it just me, or did Ellie bear more than a passing resemblance to Charlotte? Doc Jensen's pointed out more than once that it appears Charlotte's been on the island before; perhaps she is Ellie's daughter — or was Ellie's daughter, until Faraday showed up spouting off about concrete, lead, burying H-bombs, and the future. Pretty much the moment after our heroes all jumped time, Charlotte collapsed, her nose gushing blood, implying to me that something that happened while they were stuck in 1954 drastically altered the past, dangling Charlotte Lewis' fate on the thinnest of strands. Maybe Daniel should've just kept his big mouth shut.
Jeebus, I'm almost at 2000 words, and I haven't even gotten to the biggest news of the episode: Charles Widmore was an Other! And a ruthless, cocksure one at that, willing to snap a colleague's neck and pop off to Richard Alpert that no one knows the island better than he does. What this means for the show's mythos is still anyone's guess: When did Widmore leave the island? Was he born there? If he wasn't, how long had he been there? And if he did indeed spearhead the Dharma Initiative, doesn't that mean Dharma wasn't so much an outside intruder than a Great Schism within the Other population itself?
So many questions, and now only 29 more episodes left to answer them. But I think we may just have gotten ourselves a big honking answer last night to a question looming since the beginning of season two: What, exactly, was contained within that massive bunker buried underneath the hatch (i.e. the Swan station), a bunker seemingly made of concrete and lead? Well, it looks like it may have been good ole Jughead, a thermonuclear device capable of emitting a massive electromagnetic pulse; your guess is as good as mine as to how that energy would interact with the time-trippy qualities of the island. (Asst. Prof. Vary extracurricular reference No. 5: I confess to only the most basic knowledge of the Archie comics, but I do know the character of Jughead was always obsessed with food, needing it constantly...like, say, every 108 minutes.) If Juggy wasn't what was buried under the Swan, then, well, crap, it appears there's a rogue H-bomb tucked somewhere underneath the island. And as we learned from last season's finale, you don't show a bomb on a TV show like Lost unless you intend it to go boom.
This is all way, way long, so rather than mull over the kinda sorta first meeting between Richard Alpert and John Locke, I'll leave it to you, dear readers, to unpack it in the comments — save to point out that it seems the reason Alpert visited the hospital where John Locke was born (in last season's "Cabin Fever") was because Locke told him to two years earlier. (My noodle = Crispy.) I know Doc Jensen's going to be disappointed, meanwhile, that I never got a chance to air the elaborate "broken arrow" theory he downloaded to me on Tuesday when we were discussing "Jughead" (which we'd both seen in advance), but, frankly, I think it's best if he does it himself in his next column. He kinda lost me when he started talking about Carl Sagan and Jodie Foster.
So, Lost-ies, what did you feel about "Jughead"? Did you miss the Oceanic 6 at all? Is Penny and Desmond's love destined to be doomed? Did you notice that 1954 Richard Alpert appeared unaware of the island's time hopping qualities? Do you think we'll ever get see what it's like from the Others' point-of-view when Locke, Faraday et. al. just blip away from sight? What did Faraday mean when he said Ellie looks "so much like someone I used to know"? (My guess: He means Theresa Spencer.) Don't you think the writers should be giving Elizabeth Mitchell far more to do? (Her line readings last night — "Why don't we all put our guns down?" — were priceless.) And what was up with that quick first-person, video game-esque camera angle down Ellie the Other's gun-sight as she pointed it at Faraday? Are there some profound existential implications about the nature of audience viewpoint vis-à-vis a female character's point of view through a classically patriarchal gun? Or was the director just showing off?