MAD SCIENTIST Faraday's brilliant but sometimes faulty mind latched on to a new theory for salvation that might not work out so well for him
By Jeff Jensen
Jeff Jensen, an EW senior writer, has been despondent since the cancellation of ''Twin Peaks''We need to talk about Daniel Faraday getting gunned down by his mom. (He's dead, I think — but not for long.) We need to talk about the frazzled physicist's plan to reboot history by nuking the Island with our long-lost leaky H-bomb friend, Jughead. (Might I suggest he start looking for it somewhere in the shadow of the statue?) And yes, we need to talk about the revelation that Charles Widmore is Danny-boy's father. (Brits for parents? So how come Faraday speaks Americanese?) But first, I want to talk about the Wired magazine cameo. We saw it on Faraday's couch, just as Widmore took a seat and offered his noodle-cooked son passage to Brain Healing Island aboard his Black Freighter of Keamy Death. It was the August 2003 issue of Wired — ''The Super-Powers Issue'' — devoted to the plausible science behind far-fetched stuff like invisibility, X-ray vision, and yes, time travel. The cover featured an archetypal superhero blasting white light out of his Cyclops-visored eyes and breaking a link of chain with his Man of Steel bare hands. The headline: ''The Impossible Gets Real!''
Now, it's probably not a coincidence that an old issue of Wired made an appearance in an episode of Lost airing the same month that the current issue of Wired features one JJ Abrams as its guest editor. But why did Lost choose this particular back issue for its latest rewind, pause, and squint Easter-egg clue? Well, there's the time travel article, which spotlights the two theories favored by most Lostologists, Throne Plates and Kerr Rings. There's also this cover-touted article, ''The End of Cancer As We Know It,'' which can be found on...Page 108. Cancer, of course, has haunted Lost since season 1; and 108 is the sum total of all Lost's numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) and integral to the mystery of the Hatch. (''Every 108 minutes, a button must be pushed...'') But for me, it's all about ''The Impossible Gets Real!'' Two weeks ago, I wondered if the ominous ebony uniforms of Dharma's Black Swan team could be a nod to a book called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Now, with Wired, we have two consecutive episodes that feature a coy clue foreshadowing the imminent arrival of an extremely unlikely, yet not-at-all implausible, game-changing event.
This is all to say, I totally believe in Faraday's new theory that the time-traveling castaways can alter the past — that whatever happened can...well, un-happen. And I believe before the end of the season, someone will. But not Faraday; and certainly not by anyone following through on his crazy Let's turn the Swan site into a radioactive bird bath! scheme. (Someone's been watching a little too much Beneath The Planet of The Apes.) (Besides me, that is.) No, it's going to be another one of Faraday's designated super-special variables that will heroically break the chain of causality that has turned the lives of the castaways into a never-ending Twilight Zone episode. But which one? And how will they do it? Welcome to Lost's version of a ''Who shot JR?'' season finale, writ geeky and cosmic: ''Who changed time?''
MOTHER, JUGHEAD, AND SPEED IT UP!
The 100th episode of Lost — the fifth's season antepenultimate installment (that's a fancy way of saying ''third to last'') — was all about momma issues, mad scientist schemes, and the official start of a season-ending, ticking-clock plot in which our heroes must race against time to save themselves from electromagnetic calamity. (Unless Faraday wasn't being truthful about that — and I think it's possible he wasn't.) The episode had been billed as a dark corollary to ''The Constant,'' the season 4 classic in which Desmond went back in time to set up a future phone date with Penelope. But allow me to suggest a connection to another Lost episode.
For weeks, I've been insisting that season 5 parallels season 2, and deliberately so: the series is doubling back on itself, creating an ouroboros-shaped saga (a snake that chases and eats its own tail; see: Ms. Hawking's brooch, Season 3) whereby the castaways are helping to forge the very history that forged them. In the final episodes of season 2, MIA Michael returned to the castaway fold and manipulated them into actions that had long-tail ramifications. Here, at the close of season 5, it appears to me that Prodigal Dan has come back to do something very similar. Specifically to ''The Variable,'' we have a title that is thematically identical to season 2's antepenultimate outing, known as ''?''. Both episodes were about the same thing: a philosophical role reversal. In ''?'', John Locke changed his mind about the Hatch and decided (erroneously) that the Button was a mind-game that had no meaning. The fateful mistake would have massive consequences, none bigger than turning Desmond Hume into a time traveler and doomsday Cassandra. In ''The Variable,'' Faraday returned with a new perspective on the mutability of the time-space continuum and a Big Plan to put that thinking into action. If his gambit works, the consequences could be massive, especially for Desmond, whose entire Island narrative was defined by being stuck in the very structure that Faraday now wants to erase from existence. No one would be more affected by paradox than Faraday's half-sister's husband. ''The Variable'' was loaded with lines filled with double-meanings, like this one by Desmond: ''I promised you, Penny...I promised you I'd never leave you again.'' Famous last words, friend-o. Be very afraid, all you DesPen shippers: I fear their happily-ever-after life is about to unravel in the continuity reboot to come. Put another way: See you in another life, bruthuh.
DANIEL: But I can make time.
ELOISE: If only you could.
Why did she do it? Why did Eloise Hawking put her son on a road to predestined ruin — by her own hand, no less? I'm haunted by the question. In Faraday's first flashback scene (the year wasn't specified), we saw Mama Other interrupt Adolescent Dan's piano practice and break the news to her budding Glenn Gould that Carnegie Hall wasn't in the cards for him. She was distraught; she knew what she was about to set into motion. But she composed herself to carefully made her pitch, like Obi-Wan gingerly selling young Luke Skywalker on the whole Jedi Knight thing. Eloise said that Daniel had a destiny, and it was her job to help him pursue it, to put him and keep him on ''his path.'' She told him he had a proverbial quantum computer for a brain resting within his crystal alien skull, and that he had to learn to harness its magnificent energies to lead his people back to their planet. Okay, what she actually said was that he had ''a special gift...your mind,'' but I clearly got the vibe that his metronome-tracking mental superiority was akin to a Miles-like super-power. So, was Dan also an Island baby, too? FUN FACT! In the aforementioned Wired issue, one of eight abilities profiled in an article on plausible super-powers is total recall — rather ironic in light of Faraday's memory issues in the episode. Also featured: teleportation (see: Jack and co. getting beamed off the plane), regeneration (see: John Locke's legs; the Island's quick-healing powers), weather manipulation (see: meteorology was one of Dharma's fields of study); force fields (see: the sonic fence); underwater breathing (see: Charlie swimming toward the Looking-Glass); super-strength (see: Desmond, battling back a worse-than-it-appeared gunshot wound to beat the bloody snot out of Ben). As for the eighth power, x-ray vision: Smokey?
Daniel's youth was a big pile of no-fun. Eloise pushed him hard — like Gypsy-mom hard, like Carrie-mom hard, like Texas Cheerleader Mom hard — to become a grant-scoring, youngest-Oxford-doc-ever, time travel machine-inventing genius, even at the expense of a conventional mother-child relationship. Learn your Maxwell equations, or no more hugs! And I don't care if you think they look like Kerr rings, get your Slurpee cup off my hardbound limited edition 'A Brief History of Time!' That's no way to treat your Uncle Stevie's manuscript! Now: rub my corns, please. Behold the incarnation of conditional parental love — of maternal nurturing that was very much a variable, not a constant, in Dan's life. And she was rude to his girlfriends, too! Wouldn't even let poor soon-to-be-brain-scrambled Theresa come to graduation lunch! Bitch.
We could think the worst of Ms. Hawking. With time loop theory, we could paint her as a real monster. In this scenario, she would be someone so spooked by death that she'd be willing to shoot and maybe even kill her son over and over and over and over again, forever and ever, amen, just to cheat the grim reaper. But I'm going to bet this week's offering money that such a deliciously dark possibility is, alas, not the case. My interpretation of Eloise's motivations — most suggested by the scene in which she tenderly behooved brain-damaged Adult Dan to take the freighter gig — was that she wanted Dan to go to the Island to get healed and use his ''gift'' to find some way to buck the odds of physics and change time, especially the whole I shot my son thing. (Remember how in ''Dead Is Dead'' Smokey judged Ben for his daughter's death? Maybe that's why Eloise fled the Island — to escape the Monster's judgment.)
I invoked time loop theory in the previous paragraph, but ''The Variable'' left me feeling that maybe time loops aren't valid to Lost, after all. Notice I said maybe; I'm not ready to throw it out yet. I'm just saying I'm skeptical. Anyway, on Lost, there are other ways to know the future. The example of Desmond established that it's possible in this world to have the gift/curse of precognition — the ability to see into the future. The season 3 episode ''Flashes Before Your Eyes'' established that Eloise has long possessed knowledge of future events, although last night, we learned that she is no longer the seer that she used to be. ''For the first time in a long time I don't know what's going to happen next,'' she told Penelope. FUN FACT! The Dead Zone, the 1979 novel by Lost inspiration Stephen King, is set against the backdrop of 1970s events, about a guy who can see into the future by touching stuff.
Among the many lingering questions I have about the provocative though maddeningly incomplete joint Faraday-Hawking flashbacks, there is this: At one point did Shotgun Ellie, Queen of the Others, realize that the Charles Manson-looking interloper that wandered into her camp recklessly brandishing a gun was in fact her son all grown up? The most likely possibility is that next week, Jack and Kate will emerge from their hiding place and start yelling, ''You stupid dingbat! You just shot your kid!'' They'll probably prove it by making her read his notebook. She'll notice the inscription written in her handwriting and maybe even read a tell-tale entry (November, 1994: Mom made me break up with another girlfriend today. Just for that, I'm going to name my lab rat after her and scramble its brain with my time travel ray. Take that, ELOISE HAWKING WHO IS MY MOTHER!) and she'll suddenly realize: ''Oops. Blimey!''
Still, I find myself going back to that first flashback scene and mulling the possibility that moments before Eloise entered the piano parlor in tears, something happened. And I wonder if that something could have been discovering, for the first time, the true identity of the man she shot in the jungle. How? Maybe a phone call from all-knowing Widmore. Maybe an extended flash of Dan's bendy-shaped future. Or maybe (yes!) a Back to the Future 2 scenario: a letter from time traveling Faraday himself, written during his Ann Arbor but not delivered, per his instructions, until this flashback's point in time, several years later. Dear Mom: Yep, that was me you shot in 1977 — the kid currently playing the piano in the other room, all grown up. But listen: I don't hate you. In fact, it's actually now vitally important that you keep me on my path. I think I've found a way to beat this destiny thing, but to do so, you gotta send me to the Island. And you have to make sure you do one thing, because in stories like this, it always boiled down to that — that one, important thing. And it's this: I need you to give me a notebook after I graduate from Oxford. Make sure you tell me you always loved me in the inscription, because that's thematically important, especially after last week's episode, which dealt with the cost of broken parental bonds and love that goes unexpressed. I don't totally understand it myself, but I'm telling you: it's key. Anyway: gotta catch the sub. See you in another life, mum! XOXO—DF
Of course, I'm also fond of the idea that Eloise got her devastating 411 via a sudden superluminal download of revised personal history due to changes to the past wrought by the time-traveling castaways made possible by their interconnected quantum entanglement...oh, another time.
A few additional thoughts about Widmore and Faraday...
The Widmore/Faraday sequence extended Daniel's mysterious flashback beat from the season 4 episode ''Confirmed Dead'' and expanded on what he learned about him earlier this year in ''Jughead.'' Not only did he use research assistant/gal pal Theresa in his consciousness transfer time travel experiments, but as many of you predicted, Faraday used himself, as well, rendering him all mumbles and pained expressions. His brain had become a sieve (cue the Thomas Dolby song, if you will); apparently, his memory bank, like Jughead, had become all leaky and incapable of retaining much memory. He was fired from Oxford, fled to the States, lived with a woman who took care of him, relationship unknown. Many of you believe that the reason he was experiencing such déjà vu while watching news coverage of the fake Oceanic 815's discovery was because he had mentally visited this moment during one of his self-administered time ray zaps. I am inclined to agree with you.
Widmore visited. Took responsibility for the fake Oceanic 815 thing. (So much for my theory last week that Ben was actually to culprit.) Offered him the Freighter gig. Promised him healing. And he so heavily foreshadowed the revelation about being Dan's dad, that when we got confirmation in the later Widmore/Hawking scene (''He's my son, too''/SLAP!), it felt like something of a non-shocker. Speaking of the SLAP, why did you think Eloise slapped him? My wife is convinced that Widmore isn't Daniel's biological father — which may make sense if his claim to Dan that he had never met him is true — and that the real DNA daddy is... Richard Alpert.
About Desmond and Penelope...
The Desmond stuff was curious. I didn't realize that gunshot wound was so bad — especially after Des recovered quickly enough to beat the tar out of Ben and dump him in the marina. (What? The carton of milk wasn't bulletproof?) I guess he got one of those mama-goes-Hulk-to-save-her-kids-from-an-overturned-car surges of strength things. Regardless, Desmond was rushed to the hospital, attendants barking panicky phrases like ''He's coding!'' But he survived, and left us to wonder if he was the latest in a string of ex-Islanders who can't die back in the real world because their fates remain entangled with the Island.
But back to the (allegedly) buggy continuity. For many weeks now, many of you have been asking me to comment about the season's penchant for returning to previous scenes, particularly the fateful marina summit of the Oceanic 6, but shown from different perspectives and featuring slightly altered details. For example, in one episode, Sayid told Ben and Jack, ''I don't want any part of this. And if I see you, or him again, it will be extremely unpleasant for all of us.'' But in the Sayid-centric ''He's Our You,'' we saw the scene again, but this time Sayid spoke solely to Ben: ''And if I see you again, it'll be extremely unpleasant for us both.'' Another example: Young Ben's roaming bullet hole. When Sayid shot him in ''He's Our You,'' the hole was on the one side of his chest. But in the next episode, ''Whatever Happened, Happened,'' it was on the other. And so we must decide: is Lost getting sloppy with the continuity, or do these discrepancies mean something? There has been speculation that these blips are evidence of a changing timeline. There has also been speculation that these blips are evidence of the observer effect at work in Lost, the quantum physics idea that individual perception shapes reality. And there has also been speculation that these blips — or more specifically, the repeated practice of calling back to shared moments — have something to do with ''frame dragging,'' a phenomenon associated with black holes and other reality-distorting anomalies. Me? I'm willing to shrug these things off as meaningless anachronisms, if you will. Except... FUN FACT! The word ''anachronism,'' according to wikipedia, means ''an error in chronology.'' In 1888, HG Wells wrote a short story called The Chronic Argonauts — a precursor to his more famous book, The Time Machine — about two time travelers who take shelter in an a dilapidated shack abandoned by its deceased owners. One of these quantum leapers is described as ''the Anachronic Man,'' a genius desperate to find an era to call home. One word: Jacob?
There was that damn funny moment when Ms. Hawking actually laid the blame for Desmond's shooting at Faraday's feet. ''Your son is Benjamin Linus?'' ''Oh, good lord, no,'' says Hawking, sounding revolted by the prospect that such a warty toad could have ever squirted out of her womb. Hawking's logic is interesting. In her view, Faraday's decision to send a message to 2007 Desmond via Hatch-era Desmond set in motion a chain of events that led Ben to their boat, gun blazing. Hawking seemed to evidence regret for her son's actions. Combined with her subsequent statement to Penelope that she had no idea what's was going to happen anymore, it made me think: Faraday — or someone — has successfully changed the past, but it may not have exactly produced the new present that Hawking had wanted.
BLACK SWANS AND IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS: FARADAY'S LEAP OF FAITH
''But still try, for who knows what it is possible.''
The above quote wasn't part of the script, but it was there, in the subtext of ''The Variable,'' nurturing Daniel Faraday's mad, maybe-futile, fate-defying Island quest to create history-nullifying paradox, and maybe more importantly, rouse the castaways out of their complacency and fatalism and incite them to re-take control over their lives, despite the odds. The quote — so fitting for this ''The Impossible Gets Real!'' episode of Lost — comes from Faraday's namesake, the 19th century egghead Michael Faraday, one of the founding fathers of electromagnetic science. It speaks to one of themes of the episode: How then do we live when destiny has us by the nuts?
Faraday's stated mission in returning to the Island after a couple years ''doing research'' at Dharma HQ in Ann Arbor (man, I hope we still get that backstory, dead Dan or no dead Dan) was to find Jughead and use the bomb to ''negate'' the wellspring of electromagnetic energy underneath the Swan construction site, which Faraday claimed was only hours away from exploding into catastrophe due to Dharma's drilling. Jack and Kate looked ready to roll their eyes at Faraday — but it seemed to me that his description of the Hatch, and especially the bit of business about cement being slathered over the EM spill à la Chernobyl, swayed them. Indeed, Jack had heard Sayid make the same exact Chernobyl comparison about the Swan when they went exploring its basement in season 2.
Faraday's change of mind about changing time was rooted in the almost religious certainty that his fellow time travelers' innate free will was more powerful than mathematics and physics. They were free radicals; they were variables; they were human monkey wrenches in the mechanics of reality. I found Faraday's sermon on the mount to be really corny — and really depressing if it wasn't true. Either way, I did find it hard to believe that this bright young man, no matter how troubled, couldn't have come up with that piece of common sense, however dubious, sooner. Regardless: I'm rolling with it, because I believe in the theme it represents: we must live proactively, ''but still try, for who knows what it possible.''
Faraday believed that if he could essentially eliminate the need for the Hatch, Oceanic 815 wouldn't crash, the freighter wouldn't come to the Island, nobody would go quantum leaping because of erroneously turned donkey wheels — known history would be ''erased,'' to use a Kate term, and a new history would be take its place. ''This entire chain of events, it's going to start happening this afternoon,'' he explained. ''But we can change it.'' Faraday's logic would seem to be sound. Elementary cause and effect, right? Push this domino, the rest fall. Pull that thread, the whole fabric unravels. Fire these two photon torpedoes into this tiny shaft, the Death Star explodes. Right? Well, not quite, says quantum physics and Black Swan probability theory. Both schools of thought would say, quite basically, that the odds of successfully manufacturing a single, game-changing event of this magnitude are beyond microscopically small. Not impossible — just unlikely.
Which makes me wonder if Faraday came to the Island with a back-up plan. And in fact, I think most of his Island adventure was about putting that back-up plan in motion. Call it Operation: Create Total Chaos. From the second he stepped off that sub, Faraday was kinetic energy incarnate, hellbent on colliding with his old friends and setting them in motion like a wild photon-firing electron or hyperactive cue ball. He threw cold water on Jack Shephard's ''man of faith'' conversion by crapping on his mother's destiny talk. (''''And how did she convince you? Did she tell you it was your destiny? Well, I got some bad news for you, Jack. You don't belong here at all!'' For me, the line seemed less like it was about Faraday debunking his mother but more about blowing Jack out of his watch-and-wait inertia.) He staked out the Orchid, waited for Dr. Chang to arrive (''Right on time,'' he said), then filled his ears with hysteria about evacuating the Island because of impending disaster and spilled the beans about Miles Straume actually being his son. (This sequence, an expanded version of the season's opening scene, turned ''The Variable'' into an elaborate variant edition of the season premiere itself.) He got the whole castaway crew moving: Sawyer, Juliet, Hurley and Miles to the beach; Jack and Kate with him to the Others' Tent City. And he all but baited Radzinsky and the Black Swan team into a firefight by flashing a gun and talking provocative. If Faraday is correct, and the time travelers are loose canon variables capable of changing history, then I think that we saw Faraday trying to light the fuse on each of them in hopes that one of them will somehow, someway fire that one shot, whatever it is, that will change everything. Faraday's approach to heroism is a bit like my approach to Lost theorizing: throw a lot of stuff at the wall, hope something sticks.
Faraday's actions seemed to be guided by the contents of his notebook, as if it held a "This Day In Dharma History!" schedule of events. 10 AM: Dr. Chang will arrive at the Orchid. 10:10 AM Dr. Chang will leave the Orchid. 12:30 Mom will be hanging with the Hostiles; jungle location TBD. 4:00 PM: ''The Incident.'' Run/swim like hell. 9:00 PM: Smores. Faraday clearly returned to the Island with more information about it than when he left — including the 411 on his mother's membership in the Hostiles. Which made me even more curious about what exactly he was doing over there in Ann Arbor with Dharma's head honchos. Last summer at Comic-Con, the Lost producers showed attendees a teaser video of the season that strongly suggested that Dharma had the means to send messages to people in the future, à la the movie Frequency. One wonders if Faraday was working the quantum radio and getting info from someone in the present....
Whether it was his primary plan or secondary plan or the only plan he had, Faraday's gambit reached a temporary or permanent stall in The Others' tent city. I watched the episode with about a dozen people, and more than half of us felt there was something a little contrived about the way Faraday bumbled into the Hostiles' territory. Recklessly brandishing and then discharging his gun, near-raving as he demanded to see Ellie, and then forcing a crisis by petulantly giving Alpert to the count of three to give him instant satisfaction — I mean, Faraday was practically asking to get shot. What if he was? Was he genuinely gripped by sickening shock at the awareness that his mother had set him up to be shot (''You knew...you always knew this was going to happen...and you sent me here anyway...'') or was he just playing out the part? I don't think he had any fear of being killed. On the contrary, even though he told Jack that they could die in the past, it stands to reason that depending on the scope and reach of the negating paradox, a rebooted timeline would effectively bring select dead folks back to life. Perhaps Faraday's plan to save the castaways and change history actually required that he follow through on getting shot — even killed. Because in Faraday's plan, it's what happens next that's most crucial.
What might that ''something next'' be? I'm not altogether convinced that the history-negating paradox will be wrought by Faraday. And I'm also pretty sure such change won't be facilitated by the detonation of Jughead or the destruction of the Hatch. This feels like classic Lost misdirection to me — the magician's slight of hand; the grifter's long con — designed to keep our eyes trained on the big brassy possibility, setting us up for the smaller, more subtle, more humane and emotional play that will surprise and move us. Today, my money's on Miles, getting the gumption to move past his fear and father issues and coming clean with Dr. Chang. Yep, Freaky Faraday was right. I am your kid. And there's something more you need to know. Something about our future. About what's going to happen here... And from there, consequences will flow.
And one of them, I'm betting, will be a world where Daniel Faraday was never shot — and maybe killed — by his own mother...
Of course, the fallacy in Faraday's time-changing gambit is his assumption that the new history he doesn't know will be better than the crap history that he hates. I think he's also envisioning a sweeping, epic reboot. I bet it won't work like that. I bet some characters get tweaked, a couple scenarios get dramatically revised, but otherwise everything stays the same. The differences will be different enough to feed a whole new season of story — but too many differences might not be a good idea. My prediction for the season finale, now two weeks away, is this. Paradox will be produced; we'll get 10 seconds of in-jokey, Sopranos-esque black; and then we'll suddenly pop up on Jack's eyeball blinking awake. We will see him push through the bushes and branches and get to the beach, where he'll find his castaway friends scattered on the beach, regaining consciousness. We won't know when we are, or what exactly has happened, and neither will they. But as they get their bearings, they will realize that there's a huge freakin' statue looming above them, and they're lying in the shadow of it. And as they get to their feet and try to wrap their minds around what they're seeing, they will hear a voice from behind them.
''Guys... where are we?''
And they'll turn and look...
And it will be Charlie Pace.
MORE ON DAN'S PLAN: Pressed by Miles to explain his disclosures to Dr. Chang, Dan replied, ''Just making sure your father does what he's supposed to do. You'll see.'' Dan's plan seemed to involve making sure some people do what they've always done, and making sure the Variables do something radically different. Or was Dan manipulating Chang with some reverse psychology? Is the thing that Dan wants Chang to do not the thing he told him to do? You tracking with me?
SAWYER CALLING KATE ''FRECKLES.''/JULIET'S REACTION. One word: Oops.
DAN'S CHAT WITH CHARLOTTE: Did you get the sense there was more to that conversation at the end than we were allowed to hear?
''FONZIE TIMES'': Great laugh.
ELOISE: ''CASUALITIES IN A CONFLICT THAT'S BIGGER THAN ALL OF US.''/WIDMORE: ''MY RELATIONSHIP WITH PENELOPE IS ONE OF THE THINGS I HAD TO SACRIFICE LONG AGO.'' Your theories, please, on what these lines mean. JeffJensenEW@aol.com