‘Lost’ (S3): Introducing the Redemption of TV Theory
THE 10-WORD TEASE!
(In which we whet your appetite for tonight’s new episode of Lost with 10 words worth of cryptic fun, courtesy of the show’s creators.)
This week’s tease from executive producer Carlton Cuse is:
”It’s judgment time. Yemi. Eko. What does the island want?”
Tune in tonight for the answer — and come back to EW.com tomorrow to read our resident Lost watcher Christine Fenno’s always-terrific take on the show.
SPECIAL PROGRAMMING ANNOUNCEMENT!
I know who the Others are.
That is to say, I know who they REALLY are.
Next week, I’m going to tell you.
FOLLOW-UP: DO LOST AND HEROES SHARE THE SAME WORLD?
A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you my theory that the exec producer of Heroes, Tim Kring, and the exec producer of Lost, Damon Lindelof, are in a secret creative alliance, and that their respective stories share a common backstory mythology. To wit: The Hanso Foundation/The Dharma Initiative is the agency responsible for the outbreak of super-powered humans in Heroes.
In response to the theory, Kring, who happens to be good friends with Lindelof, revealed that the two men have indeed discussed the idea of creating some kind of creative synergy between the two shows, although the reality of Lost and Heroes being on separate, competing networks makes that somewhat complicated if not impossible.
I recently had the chance to run all of this by Lindelof. For the record, when I asked him if it was true that he and Kring had discussed the possibility of a Heroes/Lost team-up, this was his reaction:
”Totally true. And if Hiro can teleport ANYWHERE, wouldn’t YOU watch him team up with Hurley to find the rest of that four-toed statue?”
My answer: YES!
TELL ME ABOUT THE RABBITS, UNCLE STEVE…
In last week’s episode of Lost, there was a scene in which Ben seemed to kill a bunny by shaking its cage so violently that the rabbit had a heart attack and died. If you saw the episode, you know that it was all a ruse; Ben was trying to get into Sawyer’s head — to rattle his cage, so to speak — and to prove that the castaway con man was no match for the former Henry Gale in the art of psychological warfare.
Quick — what’s the one thing you remember about that rabbit, besides its fake death? My assumption is that what you most vividly recall was the ”8” that was written on its white fur. I’m going to make that assumption, because a better mind than mine tells me that that’s the assumption most anyone would make. His name is Stephen King, and it turns out that the 8-branded bunny is a reference to his memoir, On Writing.
The passage can be found in the chapter titled ”What Writing Is.” The first sentence of the chapter answers the implicit question, and from a Lost theorizing perspective, it’s kind of a doozy. What is writing?
”Telepathy, of course.”
And he’s serious, too. I think. Read the book and decide for yourself. In this short chapter, King tries to argue his point by painting a word picture. ”Look — here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot stub which it is constantly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.”
It’s King’s belief that upon reading that, and reflecting upon the bunny, we would all agree that ”the most important thing here… [is] the number on its back…. This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds.”
Do Bunnies + Telepathy = Doc Jensen’s Animal Magic Theory?
Station to station
But some other things about On Writing. Earlier in the brief bunny-referencing chapter, King refers to books as ”an escape hatch” out of the ”purgatory” of life. He also talks about the place where you, the reader, like to be when you read a book. He calls this place your ”far-seeing place, the one where you go to receive telepathic messages” from an author via the broadcast frequency of the printed page. King describes his own ”far-seeing place”:
”I’m in another place, a basement place where there are lots of bright lights and clear images. This is a place that I’ve built for myself over the years. It’s a far-seeing place. I know it’s a little strange, a little bit of a contradiction… but that’s how it is with me.”
Does that sound familiar to you? It should. You’ve been there before. And tonight, you’re going to go there again.
You know it as The Pearl Station.
THE REDEMPTION OF TELEVISION THEORY
The Secret Purpose of The Dharma Initiative and The Allegory of The Pearl Station
What do we know about The Pearl Station? You know, besides it looks like the ultimate geek basement — a couple reclining chairs, a wall of televisions, and a computer?
Nothing, of course. Oh, sure, there was an orientation video in the subterranean facility, which explained that the purpose of the station was to monitor a psychological experiment taking place in another hatch — namely, The Hatch, or Station Three: The Swan. According to the Pearl video, the occupants in The Swan believe they have been given a task ”of utmost importance,” and the job of the Pearl occupants was to document everything the Swan people did in their notebooks, ”no matter how minute or seemingly unimportant.” Still, how much can we really trust these films? After all, they’re all about ”orientation” — about controlling information, manipulating our attention, and facilitating a pre-determined response. (This would be my criticism of King’s lovely ”writing is telepathy” theory; aren’t novels basically one-sided ”orientation” narratives? But that’s a conversation for another time.)
The Pearl video is filled with many distracting little details — lots of bunnies with numbers on them, if you will. But a couple jump out at me. First, the Pearl video makes a point of letting its viewers know that it is deliberately withholding information from them. In the video, the narrator, Dr. Mark Wickmund (who is also the lab coat-clad narrator of the Swan film, although he went by the name Dr. Marvin Candle) tells the Pearl occupants, ”What do [the Swan] subjects believe they are accomplishing as they struggle to fulfill their tasks? You, as the observer, don’t need to know.”
It reminds me of the Swan film, with its ominous reference to ”the incident” — although that, too, was conspicuously, deliberately unexplained. Curious, huh?
Curious, indeed. In fact, I think the whole notion of curiosity explains a big chunk of The Dharma Initiative. Here’s my theory, based on information gleaned from the show, the annotations on The Map that Locke discovered in The Hatch, information supplied by The Lost Experience, and my own twisted, comic book-shaped imagination:
WHAT IS THE ISLAND?
The island was discovered by Magnus Hanso, presumably an ancestor of Alvar Hanso, founder of The Hanso Foundation, the financier of The Dharma Initiative. According to the annotations of The Map, Magnus Hanso is buried on the island, near Black Rock, the slave ship beached in the middle of the jungle. Given the island’s unique properties — the electromagnetic energies, whispering jungles, and ancient statues — it’s possible that Magnus believed he had discovered a mystical lost continent, which was a popular pseudo-scientific notion of the early 20th century.
WHAT WAS ALVAR HANSO UP TO ON THE ISLAND?
But Magnus’ utopian-minded descendent had a different theory on the island. During the 1960s, according to The Lost Experience, Alvar Hanso participated in a U.N.-backed project to produce something called The Valenzetti Equation, a mathematical formula that predicted the expiration date of mankind. However, Hanso believed that if you could change the six most important variables in the equation, you could change mankind’s destiny. Those variables just happen to be The Numbers: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. Each of the numbers corresponds to an environmental factor that contributes to mankind’s destiny on earth, including overpopulation. Hanso believed the island could be used as a means to change the world, and created The Dharma Initiative to accomplish that task. He didn’t exactly explain how, and according to The Lost Experience, it doesn’t really matter, anyway, because Dharma failed.
WHY DID ALVAR THINK THE ISLAND COULD SAVE THE WORLD?
Here’s my theory: Hanso, a big fan of alternative pseudo-sciences, might have believed that the island was proof positive of something called a ”morphogenetic field.” (Let’s call this MG Field for short; check out Rupert Sheldrake at Wikipedia for more info. Trippy stuff.) An alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution, MG Field theory suggests that there could be a band of energy that connects all things, and this energy basically contains information. Our DNA molecules, per this theory, receive information from the field, and shape our bodies and minds accordingly so we can survive in our respective environments.
WHAT WAS THE DHARMA INITIATIVE?
According to Alvar, Dharma was an acronym for Department of Heuristics And Material Applications; alternatively, he referred to Dharma as ”the one true way.” A heuristic is a fancy word that basically means, ”a way to solve a problem.” Putting it all together, Alvar and The Dharma Initiative (sounds like a great name for a band) was trying to find a solution to save the world, and apply it to their chosen material — human beings.
My contention is that Alvar believed that the island is a conduit to the MG Field, and could be used to essentially reprogram human beings.
According to proponents of MG Field theory, this energy is accessed psychically. It works like this:
STEP ONE: An advantageous behavior PERFORMED by a member of the tribe;
STEP TWO: The behavior is OBSERVED by other members of the tribe, who recognize its benefit and adopt the behavior;
STEP THREE: The behavior is uploaded into the morphogenetic field and downloaded to other members of the tribe worldwide.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO PEARL AND SWAN STATIONS?
I wonder if what Alvar was trying to do was teach human beings one simple behavior that could save themselves from self-destruction. That behavior?
And then, after enlightenment — action.
Consider again the Pearl video, which begins with a quote from Dr. Karen DeGroot, one of his Dharma collaborators:
”Careful observation is the only key to true and complete awareness.”
Alvar’s hope was this:
The Pearl occupants would grow increasingly curious about the things they hadn’t been told, and more than that, concerned about the test subjects in the Swan, especially as they ”struggled to complete their task.” In fact, I think Alvar hoped the observers in the Pearl would become appalled by what they saw happening in The Swan, and feel guilty about their own participation in the experiment. Hanso hoped that the Pearl-based watchers would revolt against the system, free the Hatch inhabitants, and reveal to them the hidden structures that govern their lives.
In other words, what Alvar Hanso was trying to do was upload into the MG Field a bold new biological imperative that would change the world, a new appetite to replace the appetite for destruction:
The drive for ENLIGHTENMENT.
A desire for CHANGE.
But it didn’t work.
Because The Pearl observers didn’t become curious about the alarming mysteries of their endeavor. They didn’t become concerned about the struggles of The Swan occupants.
No, like good little worker bees, they just did their job, as instructed by the dubious dude in the video.
And like good little TV watchers, they just sat back and enjoyed the show.
Silly Alvar. He thought watching TV could actually save the world. But if he knew then what we know now, he would know that could never happen. Why?
Survivor. Big Brother. The Bachelor. Wife Swap. Temptation Island.
In other words: the guys in The Pearl were your average REALITY TV FANS. Watching people suffer? well, that’s just funny! And those journals they were keeping?
Television without pity, indeed.
Fortunately, we have Lost. Because Lost is all about promoting introspection and redemption; about taking a journey that reveals that truth of our lives, and inspiring us to live our lives differently, and for the better.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to watch Survivor exploit some racial stereotypes. HILARIOUS!