Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Destiny Versus Free Will : Thoughts On Season 5 of Lost

As the fifth season of Lost comes thundering to what promises to be another thrilling finale, we're left to ponder what this past season has really been about. When the time shifts first start occurring back in the beginning of the season, resident time travel expert Daniel Faraday tells us that you can't change the past and that what happened, happened. To Daniel, this is pure science, unconnected with all he had heard from his mother while growing up about fate and destiny. So, after numerous jumps and a stint at Dharma headquarters in the mid 70's, Daniel storms back to the island, telling his fellow time travelers that it is indeed possible to change the future, that human individuals are the variables because we have free will.

But do we? As Daniel's mother Mrs. Hawking tells Desmond back in season three, you cannot change your destiny. And if what happened, happened, then doesn't that mean that what happened is what always happened? Not just the literal events that took place, but that our people were always there? If our Losties were always back in the 70's than that means the events that led to them going back to the 70's always happened as well.

It's not just that what happened, happened, it's that what will happen is always going to happen as well. And what does this mean for free will? Well, Daniel sees the meaning of free will first hand when he tells young Charlotte not to come back to the island despite his promises not to say a thing to her. Beyond that, most of the choices we see our characters making are certainly of their own volition. Some of these choices, like Sayid's attempt at killing Ben, are direct attempts to change known events. But most of the choices our characters make are made in a vacuum. Echoing the themes of previous seasons, our characters hide information from one another, neglect to mention important details, and make important decisions with out ever appreciating the full ramifications of their choices. And as we've seen with Ben and Dr. Chang among others, the choices our characters make directly impact their lives and the events we saw unfold during the first four seasons.

There's a certain paradox there, where the choices our characters make in the 70's lead to their lives as we see it decades later, but that this sort of circular logic exists in the Lost universe is plainly obvious from the Richard-Locke interactions across thew time line. Chronologically, Locke first meets Richard on the island as a time traveler in the 1950's, giving Richard a compass. Several years later, Richard goes to witness Locke's birth, all because future Locke told him to be there. Years after that, Richard visits a young Locke and asks him to chose among a number of items. Young Locke fails to chose the compass which older, time-traveling Locke had given Richard back in the 50's. In 2007, resurrected Locke instructs Richard to give the compass to time-traveling Locke, completing the circle and raising the mind-numbing question of where the compass came from in the first place. But compass origins aside, there is a simple beauty in the logic of the universe that Lost has given us. The only way to truly understand it is to take a step back and look at the story as a whole and see how the various disjointed pieces actually fit together.

Now, none of this answers the question of fate versus free will, which is ultimately too much of a big question for a good television show to ever give a real answer to. Yes, what happened, happened, but did what happen, happen because our characters only made the choices they were destined to make, or did what happen, happen because our characters do have free will, did make choices and destiny is just what we're calling the choices that they made. It's a chicken or egg question, made all the more confusing by time travel mumbo jumbo.

What we have seen is that our time traveling characters can't change the past, even when they try to and more importantly than that our characters create the circumstances of their own lives. Between Sayid, Kate, and Sawyer, we've seen the origins of the Benjamin Linus we'll know to grow and love/hate. We've seen Miles come to grips that it was he and his friends who helped create the fatherless and angry young man he was going to become. And my big prediction for the finale is that our Losties- and Jack in particular- are going to create the circumstances that lead to the crash of Oceanic 815 all while actively working to prevent it. It's a nice tie in to this theme of destiny and a great tie in back to season 2, where our gang spends so much time at the Swan station that they will help to make so important.

There's another important them running throughout this season, throughout the whole of Lost really, and that is whether one can change what they are. It's here where I think Jack, in his over zealousness to be the hero, is yet again missing the big picture. He's worried about changing events, but you have to wonder whether he has changed himself. In fact, the conclusion of this season has brought up this same question for all of our characters. Despite being teased and tantalized in the season's early goings, have our characters really grown? Have our characters really changed their stripes or are they the same people they always were and dare I say, are always destined to be?

There's Jack, as I mentioned, who has this intense emotional need to be the hero. When Jack here's about Jughead and Faraday's plan, this is a way for him to save every last person on flight 815, but once again, as we've seen throughout his life, this is Jack, the doctor, thinking about saving physical lives and not about hearts and souls. There's Sawyer, who, in leaving on the sub, seems to be embodying the sort of cowardice that Cassidy said defined him. Yes, he's looking out for more than just himself in the form of Juliet, but isn't he leaving all his friends behind? He may have expanded his circle to include Juliet, but isn't this the same old selfish Sawyer we've always known? And then of course, there's Juliet, who as we saw back in season three and season four, was seemingly always destined to be "The Other Women." As if on cue, who drops into the sub to join her and Sawyer on their getaway? Of course, it's Kate. Those three are perhaps the best examples, but Sayid, and possibly Kate could fit the mold as well. Hurley is a bit more difficult, given that we don't yet know his motivations and John Locke, well, he remains a mystery in and of himself.

So what's to come on Lost? Well, I'm fairly certain that we're leading up to the incident, that our people will be involved and that the season will end with all or most of our people back in 2007. Beyond that, I'm very hazy. As I mentioned, Locke remains a big mystery, both in terms of who he is and what he is doing.

I'll close out with some random thoughts and guesses about what's left to come on Lost, in this season's finale and beyond. My theory for at least a month now is that Eloise is going to be involved in the incident at the Swan and that she herself is going to be given powers of foresight similar to those experienced by Desmond after his turning of the Swan's failsafe key at the end of season two. Daniel's diary is potentially a game changer as it could explain much of older Mrs. Hawking's knowledge of the future, however, it still seems to me as though Mrs. Hawking was well aware of events beyond the scope of Daniel's diary. Most notably, she was in the jewelery store back in season three as Desmond flashed back through time, explaining to Desmond that he doesn't buy the ring for Penny and that he can't change his destiny. So my theory's still in play, but I'm wondering if there's something else I'm missing. Mrs. Hawking's statement to Penny a few weeks ago (in 2007) that she couldn't see what was going to happen for the first time in a long time was intriguing and it's important to note that Daniel left in 2004, so any information in the diary couldn't have come from any later than 2004.

The other big thought I have brewing is that the coming war on the island will be a religious sort of struggle for the island, with the Others facing off against this new shadow of the statue group. There's a popular theory out there that the shadow of the statue people are part of a reconstituted Dharma initiative, but that theory males little sense plot wise and even less sense as far as the general tone of the narrative. The use of the statue invokes a deep connection to the ancient history of the island, not the sort of connection to be found with Dharma. The really interesting questions are about our characters. Where does Widmore fit in, where does Eloise fit in? How and why is Desmond getting back to the island (which has to happen), a question which probably won't be answered until next season and what's the deal with Locke and with Jacob, a question that may well be answered this season.

This has been an unusual season for Lost, really, an unusual season for any television show ever. In terms of overarching themes and the season long plot, I feel the show has been just as strong as ever, but some of the episode-by-episode execution of the story has been clunky at times. To be fair to the writers, this is probably because of the vast number of story lines, character moments, and plot reveals that had to be juggled all season, a far more difficult task than anything that's come before. Even without some of the clunky moments, I don't feel this season would be as strong as season four, mostly because last year was heavier on character while this year was heavier on plot. But I'm thrilled for tonight's finale and am just antsy with anticipation. The worst part is, there's only a year of this left.


Blogger McMc said...

Good stuff.

I think it's funny that there is one mystery that keeps popping up that we just seem to ignore, even though it has been a driving force for several characters: Christian.

Is he going to be there when Locke and Richard visit Jacob? Is he Jacob? Why is he the one that keeps showing up? What did he do with Claire? I mean, he was the one who told Locke to turn the wheel. He told Michael he was "free". He took Claire. Since season one he has been showing up randomly. He created a link between Sawyer and Jack (the Red Sox winning the series) and gave Jack some peace of mind. He keeps popping up and we have no idea why and for whatever reason, we don't see to care. He's going to be very central in everything that happens if you ask me and I think he could be crucial next year.

4:52 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Thanks for commenting buddy and great point. Going along with that theme, how are these various parts of the island all connected? Is Christian Jacob and if he isn't, does he really speak on Jacob's behalf? How does the smoke monster fit into the picture? And when John tells us what the island told him, how do all these other forces fit in terms of the island?

I have two other thoughts in terms of theories for tonight:

1- That whatever happens in the finale will be the reason that women on the island are later unable to conceive on the island. We've sort of lost that mystery, but it's still out there and thematically, remember our opening scene this season was a baby- Baby Miles.

2- That whatever happens in the finale will somehow release the smoke monster. We've never actually seen the smoke monster during our time in the past, nor have we heard the Dharma folks say anything about it. We also have Jack, Sayid, Eloise, and Richard in the tunnels where it seems the smoke monster inhabits.

7:03 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

I actually saw "Walkabout" on Sci-Fi the other day and there was a very interesting quote said by Locke. I can't remember the specifics, but he described a walkabout as a spiritual journey where a man becomes one with the land. Kind of matches what is going on with him and the island telling him stuff, does it not?

7:22 PM  

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