Lost 5.14: "The Variable"

After a week off, the Lost crew came blazing back this week, with Dan Faraday leading a wild episode.

Episode: "The Variable"

The Happenings: Having returned to the Island, Daniel immediately commences causing trouble. He shows up at Jack's to explain that Eloise lied about the survivors' destiny; that they did not need to return. Jack of course freaks a little bit. He rendezvous with Sawyer and the other fake Dharmites. Sawyer reveals that he and Juliet are storing an angry Dharma security worker, so no matter what happens, the jig may indeed be up.

At the same time, Faraday sets off with Miles to try to convince Dr. Chang that work needs to be halted on the Swan. We come to learn (well, it comes to be confirmed as we sort of already knew) that an accident in the construction of the Swan will lead to the need for the button, which will be not-pushed by Desmond, which will lead to flight 815 crashing.

Faraday's stated purpose for returning is to stop this incident. He shows up at Sawyer's to tell the Oceanic gang that he needs there help finding the others. Jack and Kate take him, getting in a shoot out along the way. Sawyer, meanwhile, is discovered by the balding guy with glasses to be harboring his prisoner. The shit hits the fan. Faraday, Kate and Jack find the Others, only to have Faraday shot by his own mother, who Faraday was convinced could help them.

The opening and closing of the episode were framed with a scene where Eloise visits Penny at the hospital after Desmond has been shot by Ben. She explains that she's Faraday's mother and apologizes for everything. Later, outside, Eloise runs into Widmore with whom she exchanges pleasantries and then a slap.

The rest of the episode consisted of flashbacks that gave us some context on the Faraday/Eloise relationship. She pushed him from an early age to go into science, explaining that his gifts had to be focused and harnessed to achieve his destiny. We also see how she convinces Daniel to go to the Island on Widmore's dime.

The Craziness: Because I think I forgot to mention it before, the code that needs to be pressed ad nauseum in the future seems to have come from the serial number on the literal hatch that is installed at the Swan station. This wasn't revealed in this episode, but it's worth mentioning in light of other revelations.

In a piece of information that may be new, but may also be filler from previous episodes: Faraday had an accident while working at Oxford that killed his sexy research assistant and also left his short term memory compromised. Widmore attempts to convince him to return by explaining that the Island will heal him.

The mysterious other Elli is indeed Eloise, Faraday's mother. Widmore, who seems to be friendly with Eloise, if not overly loving, may be Faraday's father.

Eloise sends her own son back to the Island, knowing full well that once there a younger version of herself will shoot him. This is probably why she slaps Widmore, and probably why she seemed to not want Daniel to go back at the same time that she was encouraging it.

The Verdict: While things moved quickly this week, and there was plenty for theorist to chew on, things still felt a little uneven. I'd point to the seemingly limitless contradictions that appear to be materializing around the time travel within the show.

The title of this episode, "The Variable," comes from Faraday who is describing how he misunderstood a great deal of his theoretical (or relativistic?) physics work focusing on constants -- which was a cute nod back to a previous episode where Desmond establishes his constant -- and this caused him to lose sight of the variables, which are the people in the equation. That would be fine except that too much seems to have transpired in the past for the future to have not been affected at all.

Of course, if we think of the Island as a contained unit, then things could still work out, but the fact remains that we (and be "we" here I clearly me "I") are being forced to spend too much time working through the time travel implications. The meat of Lost has always been the personal interactions and relationships: deciding who was good and who was evil, decoding ulterior motives, digging at the relationship between Others and Dharma. Hell, even the crazy-soapy love triangles were fun. These time travel heavy episodes start to feel like too many mental jumping jacks, and are harmed even further by the fact that if you pull to hard on any one string there's a real concern that everything is going to fall apart.

All that being said, I thought they continue to do a nice job of teasing the final conclusion. With two episodes left, we've got real conflicts, and one massive decision to be made -- do they press the reset button, by using the bomb to counteract the Swan accident, and thereby eliminate the last three years of their lives (don't forget about all the wacky adventures!) or do they roll with things the way they are?

The Wild Speculation: In one of the very first scenes, it felt like we were being tossed a bone: Jack and company weren't supposed to come back, and Eloise was a dirty liar. Here's the thing, why? What would she have to gain by sending the survivors back in time. Not to mention sending back Ben and Sun even though they weren't to land back in time with the rest.

And who planned the Sayid travel, and coordinated it with the rest? My wild speculation is that Eloise and Widmore are massively concerned with preserving the past as it happened when they were there 30 years previous. It's not clear why that would be so, but it's the only thing that explains why Eloise would send Faraday to the Island on the freighter.

She knew he was supposed to be there, so he had to be there. It's not a great answer, and it may only address half the question -- because given what she knows she'd have to understand the "variable" hypothesis of Daniel's -- but we don't a whole lot else to go on for now.

There's also the issue of how the present and past will be resolved. Not to mention what would happen were Jack and Kate to succeed in counteracting the Swan incident. Where would the Oceanic passengers go in that situation? Would it change the present at all or would it simply alter the unwritten future (that involves their current present, this would presume multiple presents... it's complicated).

And as I mentioned above, this all distracts from the main personal or long running questions that we've been striving to answer all along. Why the Ben/Widmore conflict? Why the fight for the Island (even if they're settling old scores, why continue to make it about the Island)? Who the hell are the Others, anyway? And what is the Island? There's probably not a lot of hope for resolution to these this season, but we can hope for a little taste.

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