By Jeff Jensen
Jeff Jensen, an EW senior writer, has been despondent since the cancellation of ''Twin Peaks''
In which a quote attributed to a great poet is used to summarize the columnist's assessment of his relentless Tommy Lee Jones-esque hunt for answers to Lost's fugacious and fugitive mysteries.
''Curiosity is kept upon the stretch from page to page, and from volume to volume, and the secret, which the reader thinks himself every instant on the point of penetrating, flies like a phantom before him, and eludes his eagerness till the very last moment of protracted expectation. This art of escaping the guesses of the reader has been improved and brought to perfection along with the reader's sagacity...'' —Samuel Taylor Coleridge, circa 1794, from his review of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, the most popular novelist of her day.
WELCOME. AND APOLOGY.
So: This column is, like, four weeks late or something. Please forgive me. Other work — as well as researching, for reasons I wish not at the moment to disclose, the literary criticism of Mr. ''Rime of the Ancient Mariner'' and baffling literary cipher that is Ann Radcliffe — got in the way. Additional reasons for my delay: 1. Wanting to finish the equally tardy season finale of Totally Lost, which you will find at the close of this column, as if some freaky four-toed foot to this monument of ruinous, airy talk; 2. Finding the right words to articulate the large swath of theory below, particularly Scenario 2. Describing this time-travel paradox stuff — dudes, that s--- be hard! And I'm still not 100 percent confident I nailed it. You shall be the judge.
I had previously billed this column as the last of the year. I originally envisioned an epic, filled with theories, illuminating research, and the results of my Lost Must-Solve Mystery Survey. But stuff has happened. Developments have occurred. Things have changed: This here collection of fractured thoughts and ill-considered wordsmithery won't be my last Doc Jensen column of the year — not by a long shot. More, soon. First:
That's what Jacob said — right before Ben, seething from decades of neglect and silence, stabbed his ephemeral liege in the heart with a ferocity (and dubious technique) unseen onscreen since Glenn Close went after Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction. (''I'm not going to be ignored, Dan, er, Jacob!'') They're coming. If the blood-sputtering Magnum Other meant our quantum-boggled castaway friends trapped in the Dharma/Jughead past, then how the heck are they going to get from 1977 to 2007? Matthew Fox says: Glad you asked! The actor reportedly teased the solution last week: Appearing at the Monte Carlo Television Festival, where Lost was being toasted, Fox was quoted as saying that the resolution to season 5's fade-to-white-hot cliffhanger will be ''very surprising — and probably fairly confusing, initially, to the audience.'' TV Guide's summary of the event goes on to report that Fox also offered a hint of the final year's structure and said he believes the audience will find the show's climactic season ''incredibly satisfying.''
To which I say: Who cares?! Why settle for electrifying and legitimate insight from the star of Lost when I can just give you four dense, borderline-incomprehensible scenarios that attempt to describe how season 6 will bring all the castaways back together again? So step aside, Jack: Let a REAL expert tackle this sitch:
SCENARIO 1: DEUS EX JACOBUS!
Jacob saved the Dharma-era pastaways from certain H-bomb incineration — but not all of them. Just the ones that the Flannery-reading, map-challenged, spare pen-lending, guitar case-denying juvenile bail bondsman, tapestry hobbyist, vending-machine enthusiast had visited and touched earlier in their lives. (R.I.P.: Miles and Juliet.) Instead of being obliterated by Jughead, the Touched were transported by Jacob's magic to the Island. When will they materialize? The moment of Jacob's death. Where? Perhaps at the site of the imploded Swan; perhaps wherever they were right before they were zapped to the Dharma past. For Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid, that would be Ajira 316/Hydra Island. For Sawyer and Jin, that would be the site of the old well where, ages earlier, they and their fellow time-flashers glimpsed Tarawet's shapely backside.
DOC JENSEN LIKES THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE...
It's as easy to grasp as ''Beam me up, Scotty'' and doesn't ask the audience to cramp their brains around time-line-reboot logic. It also nourishes one of Lost's oldest mysteries: Were the Oceanic 815 survivors deliberately brought to the Island? If so, why has Jacob become so invested in their fate? This scenario also preserves the ongoing story arcs of the core castaways instead of negating them with a history restart, thus maintaining the integrity of their redemption quests — the only story lines that truly matter. And finally, the very definition of deus ex machina — ''god from the machine'' — works for Lost, so such a twist could further feed the show's metaphysical/existential themes. Do we control our destinies or are we playthings of the Gods?
DOC JENSEN DOESN'T LIKE THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE...
Deus ex machina twists may have been fine for the ancients, but modern audiences often feel cheated by them. Contrivances such as these can retroactively diminish the dignity of the characters. What do their struggles for survival and redemption matter if these dramas ultimately pivot on a ''jonbar hinge'' or an ''alien space bat''?
ODDS OF AUDIENCE SATSIFACTION: 3-1
SCENARIO 2: OH, JUGHEAD — SUCH A JOKER!
Miles believed that history was fixed, that ''whatever happened, happened'' — and he was correct. But he was wrong when he insisted that detonating Jughead would merely fulfill the details of the Incident. By banging the bomb until it blew, Juliet really did introduce an unprecedented event, a problematic paradox, into the timeline. The twist: She didn't change history — she broke it. To fix itself, History will initiate a massive course correction, one that could create a whole new time line, depending on if the castaways choose to live their lives differently. And they will have that option, because the Jacob-touched characters will retain the memory of their past lives. They may or may not decide to avoid Oceanic 815, which will still crash on the Island, as will Ajira 316 three years later. Either way, all will ultimately choose to seek the Island.
BUT WHAT WOULD MOTIVATE THESE CHARACTERS TO WANT TO SEEK OUT THE ISLAND?
Good question — but not a theory-breaker. There are two ways this scenario could play out. 1. Season 6 begins with episodes that toggle between a storyline set on the Island in 2007 and a storyline set away from the Island, tracking the Touched. In other words, season 6 would resemble the first half of season 5, with one group of castaways on the Island and another group of castaways trying to get back to it. 2. Season 6 begins with everyone on the Island, and each episode would offer flashbacks revealing the (new) backstories and explaining their reasons for ''coming back''...although technically, in this new time line, they would be making that trip for the first time. Which means that season 6 would resemble season 1, which conforms nicely to my much-blathered-about theory that the series has been doubling back on itself since the start of season 4.
THIS THEORY MAKES NO SENSE BECAUSE OF THE GRANDFATHER PARADOX. RIGHT?
Wrong. We spoke a great deal throughout season 5 about the Grandfather Paradox, the logic trap that says that time-travelers from the future can't change the past in any way that negates their ability or motivation for time-traveling. But it's very possible that we have not been properly applying this piece of thinking to Lost. And by ''we,'' I really mean ''me,'' because I'm the one who does all the so-called ''research'' around here.
OH, GREAT. THANKS A LOT, ''DOC.''
Yep. Sorry about that. As it turns out, Grandfather Paradox was never originally conceived as a caveat to time travel. It was intended to argue for the impossibility of time travel.
OY. THIS IS GOING TO HURT MY HEAD, ISN'T IT?
I'll try to make this simple. Ever heard the expression ''throwing the baby out with the bathwater''? This is an example. There are laws that govern the universe, and they can't be violated. Hence, if time travel allows for one such a violation (the baby), then all time travel in general can't happen (the bathwater). The real sticking point here for the hyper-rational naturalists who invented Grandfather Paradox is God. As they saw it, time-travel theory requires the existence of a supernatural agency — someone or something omniscient enough and powerful enough to recognize and troubleshoot problems like paradox. But Lost apparently has such an agency: Remember our old friend ''course correction'' from season 3? History wanted Charlie dead; Desmond tried to defy history by saving Charlie's life; History, through ''course correction,'' ultimately created a scenario that finally killed Charlie. This entire dynamic — which will certainly prove unpopular with Lost's anti-supernatural Taliban set — renders Grandfather Paradox irrelevant: In Lost, time travel is possible; time travelers have enough freedom to create paradoxes; but ''course correction'' will devise solutions to fix them.
OKAY. BUT IS THERE AN EVEN SIMPLER WAY TO ARTICULATE THIS THEORY, PERHAPS ONE THAT ALSO EXPLAINS WHY THIS THEORY IS CALLED ''OH, JUGHEAD — SUCH A JOKER''?
Have you ever played poker? Good. Now, have you ever played poker when a bone-headed dealer has forgotten to remove the jokers from the deck? The players don't play out the hand — the dealer collects all the cards and re-deals. That's what happened when Juliet detonated Jughead. She dealt history a Joker. How does the supernatural agency representing History respond? By collecting the cards, shuffling, and re-dealing.
The Archie comic book character ''Jughead'' was known for being something of a jester, i.e., ''joker.'' Also, Wikipedia describes him as a ''non-conformist,'' which means you could say that within his culture, he was something of...a paradox.
THE BOGUS HISTORY ADDENDUM:
There are many Lost theorists — including myself — who have speculated that the castaways have been stuck in a fraudulent timeline, authored by the Man In Black and his acolytes (Widmore?), comprised of deviations from intended history. Seen from this perspective, Jughead created a paradox that destroyed the corrupt time line, thus setting the stage for a corrected or at least different time line to emerge.
DOC JENSEN LIKES THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE:
It's radical and complicated, and I like radical and complicated. And it also creates storytelling opportunities — and Lost does have 17 hours to fill next season. Indeed, per this scenario, season 6 would have a very season 1 vibe, as everything would be ''new'' again.
DOC JENSEN DOESN'T LIKE THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE:
It's radical and complicated, and there are many people who don't like radical and complicated, which means I'd have to spend all of next season defending this. There will also be those who feel that wiping away the old time line would effectively render the past five seasons meaningless, but they would be wrong: This scenario only makes the past five years meaningless if the remaining season 1 characters were made to lose the memories of all they've experienced. This scenario allows — nay, demands — that these characters remember their past lives, and thus preserves the continuity of their redemption arcs.
ODDS OF AUDIENCE SATISFACTION:
10-1 to start, 4-1 by the end. Definitely meets Fox's ''fairly confusing'' description.
SCENARIO 3: THEY ALL DIED AND NOW THEY'RE GHOSTS. OR RICHARD ALPERT.
Jughead blew them up. Since then, they've resided on the Island — perhaps trapped on the Island — as undead entities, not unlike Claire and Christian Shephard, or have become ageless and hard-to-kill by Jacob's touch, a la Richard Alpert.
SO, WHAT'S THE SEASON 6 STORY?
The Island is clearly a place where death can be cheated. But what if you view Island-bound immortality not as a blessing, but rather as a curse? What if you'd rather move into...whatever happens after you die instead of being stuck on the Island forever? This scenario posits that such ''moving on'' is possible, but it requires changing the rules of the Island, in such a way that causes ALL of the undead residing on the Island to pass into the afterlife, whether they want to or not. Perhaps that's what the final conflict will be all about: a war between those who wish to laze forever on the shores of this artificial, purgatorial reef as semi-real entities, and those who are conspiring to move on at the expense of their fellow phantoms' eternal tropical vacation.
DOC JENSEN LIKES THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE...
It's weird to say this, but this scenario actually represents the simplest, most easy-to-grasp possibility, given the established reality of Lost. It also provides a narrative to explore Big Themes, maybe the biggest theme of all: Our acceptance — and denial — of death.
DOC JENSEN DOESN'T LIKE THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE...
It's hard to be emotionally invested in ghosts.
ODDS OF AUDIENCE SATISFACTION: 30-1
SCENARIO 4: THEY ALL SURVIVED...AND THEY'RE NOW, LIKE, 65 YEARS OLD
Either Jughead failed to detonate, or the energy from the blast was somehow negated by the electromagnetic energy at the Swan site. Bottom line: The Dharma pastaways survived the Incident and lived happily/unhappily ever after on the Island. Those still alive in 2007 would now be in their 60s and they've been hiding out/held captive in the Temple by the Others so as not to interfere with their younger selves who've only recently come to the Island.
SO, WHAT'S THE SEASON SIX STORY?
The senior-citizen castaways would reveal themselves and invite the Ajira castaways to live among them, in their secret village on the other side of the Island. For 17 episodes, the characters, younger and old, would just hang out, talk about their lives, their issues, and just generally try to cultivate deeper understandings of themselves and each other. PLUS! Sun and Geezer Jin would be soooo Benjamin Button fun to watch. Right?
DOC JENSEN LIKES THE SCENARIO BECAUSE...
It sounds pretty profound — like My Dinner With Andre, a Tarkovsky movie, or a Sartre play, stretched across an entire television season.
DOC JENSEN DOESN'T LIKE THIS SCENARIO BECAUSE...
I can accept Jacob the Magic Jinn and ''Beam me up!'' twists, I can accept time line reboots and paradox conundrums, and I can even accept self-aware, course-correcting Fate and wars between pissy ghosts. But for some reason, my brain just can't accept the whole idea that Jughead's cataclysmic energy was somehow canceled out by the Swan's maybe-mystical energy, resulting in a zero-sum effect that hurt nobody. I don't get that.
ODDS OF AUDIENCE SATISFACTION: 10,000-1
But that's just me. And that's part of the dilemma that the producers of Lost face in terms of pleasing the audience in the show's final season: The relativity of incredulity. Given the high likelihood that the resolution of the Jughead cliffhanger is going to be utterly fantastic, which fantasy solution do you choose when one person's plausible and conceivable is another person's implausible and inconceivable? Whichever way Lost goes — and to be clear, there could be many, many more ways it could go than the ones described above — there will be those who say ''Cool!'' and there will be those who say ''Boo!'' In the end, I hope for two things, neither of which involves the words ''I hope it makes sense.'' 1. That the final season of Lost be meaningful. 2. That the final season of Lost does what it has always done: Stir our imagination. Again with the Coleridge: Curiosity is kept upon the stretch from page to page, and from volume to volume, and the secret, which the reader thinks himself every instant on the point of penetrating, flies like a phantom before him, and eludes his eagerness till the very last moment of protracted expectation...
AND AS FOR THE REST OF THE COLUMN...
There is no rest of the column. No reader mail. No research results. Nothing...except the season finale of Totally Lost. Behold the editing magic of our producer, the extravagantly talented Jason Averett, to whom Dan and I owe a great deal of thanks for putting up with our ''attempts at narrative'' and his tireless, late-night labors! Behold a descent into total madness as we finally reveal the face of our own malevolent Man In Black who popped a cap in Pig E.'s eye! And behold Dan and I, quickly sprinting from the room to get a head start on the mob that's certain to chase us with virtual pitchforks and torches! (Now we know what the producers of Lost must be dreading.)
But here's some good news (provided you think the following is still ''good news'' after this column): Doc Jensen is going on a very, very brief vacation, and then coming back on a regular basis — a couple times a month to start; then weekly as we count down to season 6 of Lost. The exact date of return: Monday, July 20. Then and there, I will reveal the results of the survey (which is not yet fully tabulated — 560 more responses since my last update!) — and reveal the cool plan Dan and I have hatched for Comic-Con. Until then, I present to you — with a huge nervous gulp and much anxiety roiling in my gut — the epic conclusion to this season's Totally Lost, complete with special effects, strange new characters, scary masks and funny costumes, and our own version of a noodle-cooking cliffhanger. Enjoy? I mean: Enjoy!