Tonight's two-hour premiere begins Lost's final chapter. Defining choices will be made, long-standing mysteries will unravel, and the island's fate will be decided. What does it all mean? Here are our semi-informed guesses. Warning: This post is full of spoilers.
Before we get started, I should clarify something right off the bat: I tend to approach Lost from a science-fiction perspective. I'm interested in trying to make the time travel, alternate universes and electromagnetic pulses into something that makes sense as a science-fiction story. Oftentimes, when I read other people's posts of Lost theories, it tends to go way off into spiritual and metaphysical speculation — and of course, the show does encourage that line of inquiry at times. It's just not quite how I roll. At the same time, I am pulling some stuff out of my butt here, so feel free to post your own more erudite theories in the comments.
Also, I'm going to stick as closely as possible to stuff we know, as opposed to speculation and rumors. But "stuff we know" does include stuff we've gleaned from the excellent season six filming reports by Ryan's Hawaii Blog, among others. Also "stuff we know" includes reports from people who already watched the first hour of tonight's premiere. And this is your last warning: This post has spoilers in it.
Oh, and if you want "Lost for Dummies," here it is, courtesy of Verizon:
So we know that the final season is going to be 18 episodes, including a two-hour premiere and a three-hour finale (spread over two nights.) The show's creators have said, over and over, that the new season will mirror season one, both in terms of a close focus on the original characters and in terms of its "feel." There will be a Jack-centric episode, a Kate-centric episode, a Hurley-centric episode, and so on, and even the order of these episodes seems to mirror season one.
So. It's been obvious since Comic-Con that we will get to see a timeline where Oceanic 815 lands safely — there was that video where Hurley talks about how he's been lucky since he won the lottery. (So maybe the numbers don't have the same disturbing power in this alternate universe that they do in the original one? More on that in a moment.) And even in the brief four-minute clip of the first episode that we've already seen, it's clear that there are more differences in the "alternate" world than just "the plane landed safely." Our first clue is that Cindy the flight attendant gives Jack one bottle instead of two, and Jack's nervous instead of Rose. But there's more to come.
According to people who've seen the first hour of tonight's two-hour premiere, the island itself is underwater in this alternate timeline — which only magnifies the question of how far-ranging the changes to the timeline actually are. Is the point of divergence for this new timeline 1977, when Jack and his crew set off the hydrogen bomb next to the site of the Incident — or did the temporal effects ripple backwards as well as forwards in time? When was the island sunk in this timeline? In 1977 or earlier?
It's been clear from numerous set reports and bits of leaked footage that every passenger on Flight 815 — plus Desmond, who's apparently aboard the plane this time around — arrives in L.A. and has very different lives than the ones we'd already known about. Kate's a fugitive, Sawyer's apparently a cop, Claire has her baby at Jack's hospital, Charlie gets arrested for drugs and gets bailed out by the psychic Desmond, Hurley meets up with Libby, and John Locke and Ben are both working at the same school (where Ben's "daughter" Alex is a student.) We get to see all of these characters live very different lives — and no doubt this goes to the heart of the "fate" part of the show's equation.
Were these characters really fated to end up on the island? What happens if there's no island for them to end up on?
My question is, what's the point of the alternate timeline? If the central narrative of the show really is the battle between Jacob and the Man In Black for control over the island, what does either of them gain by having the Oceanic 815 passengers play out an alternate history in which there is no island? By all accounts, the "real" timeline, in which the plane crashed and the five years of stuff we've already witnessed did happen, is still intact and continuing to unspool — so it's not like the alternate timeline "replaces" the real one. So if this is really all a giant chess game between ambiguously good and ambiguously evil over the island's mysterious powers, what's the point of having an island-less timeline?
So let's think about how this "alternate timelines" thing came about. It's all thanks to Daniel Faraday. His mom, Eloise Hawking, kills him in 1977 and then goes on to raise him to become a physics genius so he can think of a way out of the predestination paradox they're trapped in. (She also goes to fairly elaborate lengths to get Jack and friends back on the island, even though she "knows" they're already destined to end up in 1977 with her.) Daniel seems to think of the hydrogen bomb idea on the spur of the moment, but was he maneuvered into a situation where he'd concoct that scheme? Eloise seems to be in league with Ben, but does that put her on the opposite side of her former lover, Charles Widmore? Are Ben and Widmore working for different sides in the Jacob/MIB battle, or is that just a separate and unrelated rivalry?
Eloise's behavior in the episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes" seems to be crucial here — she is very upset with the idea that the time-jumping Desmond might try and marry Penny and change his fate, instead of winding up on the island pressing that button over and over again. She tells Desmond that unless he follows his original course of action, everyone in the world is dead. At the same time, even though she's worried Desmond won't fulfill his destiny, she also claims that the universe will "course-correct" no matter what you do. (A similar "course-correction" mechanism seems to be at work in the Star Trek movie, in which Kirk still becomes captain despite Romulan time-meddling.)
This "course-correction" mechanism plays out in the death of Charlie — although Charlie's actual death is different enough, and delayed enough, that it would seem to qualify as a significant alteration to the timeline that Desmond originally glimpses. In the Lost universe, it seems like you could travel back in time and prevent the Space Shuttle Challenger from blowing up — but the astronauts would still die weeks later in a traffic accident. It's still not the same thing, though. (I think it's hinted that Desmond has a unique power to change the timeline, which none of the other characters possesses — but maybe Desmond just puts more of a strain on this "course-correction" mechanism, hence the somewhat inexact restoration of the "destined" timeline.)
In any case, this "course-correction" mechanism clearly exists, and it withstands Sayid shooting Ben in 1977 as well as a host of other time-travel shenanigans during last year's time-travel season. And maybe the only way around the course-correction system is to create a separate universe in which it doesn't apply?
Let's assume for the moment that whoever's pulling the strings in setting up the "hydrogen bomb in 1977" scenario knows that this won't change the timeline, but rather create a new timeline that goes off on its merry way. I can think of two reasons you'd want to create a "pocket" universe:
1) So that the people trapped in the pocket universe can learn a lesson. (The "Q" method.)
2) Because there's something you need people to be able to do, or an object that you need them to obtain, which is only available in this alternate universe — and which they can then bring back to "our" universe.
Otherwise, it's just a sideshow — literally. So which is it? It might well be the "learn a lesson" thing, since a big theme of the show seems to be destiny and choice. I can easily envision a situation where the passengers of Flight 815 are brought together, with full awareness of both timelines, and asked to choose between them. They would have to willingly make the sacrifice of crashing on the island, with all the bad things that happen afterwards, because the world is "better" somehow.
Jacob, in particular, seems to be very into the idea of choice. He tells Hurley in the taxi that it's his choice whether to get on Ajira Flight 316 and return to the island. He also tells Ben it's his choice whether to kill him, or leave and let him talk out his issues with the Man In Black, who's disguised as Locke. He also tells Jack that his candy bar just needed "a little push."
But what about The Numbers? I was sort of wondering if the show had given all the answers it was planning to give about them, since Damon Lindelof said a few years ago that the numbers would never be explained. But apparently he's changed his tune, and the numbers will be explained further in the final season. For those of you just joining us — ha! — these are the numbers that Hurley won the lottery with, the numbers Desmond and Locke had to keep entering at the Hatch, and the same numbers that have turned up various other places. Damon Lindelof told E! Online:
Here's the story with numbers. The Hanso Foundation that started the Dharma Initiative hired this guy Valenzetti to basically work on this equation to determine what was the probability of the world ending in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Valenzetti basically deduced that it was 100 percent within the next 27 years, so the Hanso Foundation started the Dharma Initiative in an effort to try to change the variables in the equation so that mankind wouldn't wipe it itself out.
Lindelof also said this explanation was leaked via online games and would never be made explicit on the show itself, because "That would be the worst thing ever" and it would be annoying to regular viewers who care more about the characters than the show's weird mysteries.
So the numbers are variables in the Valenzetti Equation. These numbers are unlucky — at least, they are for Hurley, who wins the lottery with them and then has a bunch of bad things happen afterwards. And they are for that guy in the Outback whose widow Hurley visits. But in the video that was leaked last summer, alt-Hurley says he's had "nothing but good luck" since he won the lottery. So as we mentioned earlier, the numbers don't have the same power in this other universe. And it's no coincidence that the island is submerged deep under water, where its fearsome electromagnetic energy can only perturb a few bioluminescent fish and make James Cameron cry. (I'm picturing a fish version of Locke debating faith vs. science with a squid version of Jack.)
The numbers are variables in an "end of the world" equation. And they're also the key to preventing the release of a catastrophic amount of electromagnetic energy that would wipe out the world right away. So maybe the alternate universe is one in which the doomsday variables are different or no longer apply?
There's a rumor, spread by unnamed sources, that each of the numbers corresponds to one of the main castaways. Rumor has it there's a list which Flocke shows to Sawyer, and later to the other characters. Locke is 4, Sawyer is 15, and so on. (Locke's name is crossed out, because he's dead.) I am treating this as a level-one "grain of salt" rumor, except that one of the most recent trailers that came out featured a clip of Jack demanding to know why his name is written down here: