Lost: The Variable
(S05E14) "Well, I got some bad news for you Jack. You don't belong here at all. She was wrong." - Faraday
After listening to Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof ranting in last week's Lost audio podcast, I didn't expect "The Variable" to be this much of a game changer. Everything we thought we knew about the island, time travel, and course correcting - it all got turned upside down. I think it's safe to say that the 100th episode of Lost is going to be remembered for more than just its milestone significance.
Timeline wise, we picked right up after Desmond and Ben's scuffle at the marina. Penny had taken Desmond to the hospital with a severe gunshot wound. So much for all those "magical milk carton" theories. Seems that Desmond was just running on pure adrenaline when he kicked the crap out of Ben. Then Miss Hawking showed up and she told Penny that she thought it was Dan's fault that Desmond was shot. I didn't get that - seemed more like Ellie was just transferring blame to her son. She was the one who told Ben how to return to the island thus putting him in a position to repay his favor to Charles by trying to kill Penny. But then again, it was Dan who knocked on the Swan door setting Desmond on his journey to LA in the first place.
Speaking of Charles - consider this. Once we found out that he was Dan's father, it also became fairly clear that Charles and Ellie had some sort of falling out. Perhaps Ellie knew about Ben's promise to Charles and hoped that he would kill Penny so that Widmore would know the same pain she felt about her son Dan? I'll come back to that.
On the island in 1977, Dan went into overdrive upon his return. Relying heavily on his notebook, he seemed to know exactly where and when everyone was on the island. First he went after Dr. Chang and we finally got to see the whole scene that opened the season premiere with Dan wearing a hardhat in the Orchid. Again, relying heavily on the information recorded in his notebook (presumably from his research at DHARMA HQ in Ann Arbor, MI), Dan told Chang that everyone had to get off the island because The Swan's pocket of electromagnetism was going to blow in about four hours when a worker drills into it - a.k.a. "the incident," something we haven't really heard about since seeing The Swan orientation film in the beginning of season two.
After that, he had to go warn Jack, Kate, Hurley, Jin, Sawyer, Miles, and Juliet. You just got here but time to leave. That whole scene was really well done and I love how Kate was placed in a position to pick Jack or Sawyer yet again only to have Juliet jump in and give Kate the code for the fence, thus guaranteeing she'd choose Jack. What did Dan need to do? Find Ellie, his mother, while Sawyer and everyone else went back to the beach where it all started. Sawyer's longest con was finally over. I really felt bad for him when Dan said none of them belonged and Sawyer said he and Juliet did just fine until they all showed up.
Once Jack, Kate, and Dan found the others, Dan demanded to talk to Ellie by holding Richard at gunpoint and then "whatever happened, happened" - Ellie shot and killed her own son. This immediately made all the flashbacks of Dan's early life that much more poignant. His mother was being a hard-ass about his studies for a reason - she knew exactly when and how he was going to die and she sent him back to the island anyway.
Which brings us to the variable - people. Dan had been so focused on the constant that he never considered what actually could be changed. This goes against everything we've thought this whole time. If the incident never occurs, then the Swan is never encased in concrete. No one ever has to push the button to contain the energy. That means Desmond will never forget to push the button. Flight 815 will never crash. Widmore will never send his freighter. Dan will never go back to the island and he'll live. How was Dan going to stop the incident before Mum shot him? Nuke the whole island with Jughead.
So what does this all mean? It really is all Ellie Hawking's fault in some oddball way - she's trying to save her son's life. By convincing everyone else to go back to the island, all she could do was hope that prior to Dan's death, he'd be able to convince someone else to carry on his task - detonate Jughead. Jack seemed on board with erasing history, but Kate was a little iffy. So it would appear that the coming "war" is actually Ellie vs. Charles. Blow the island up or save it. It's actually starting to look like Ben really doesn't have anything to do with the bigger picture.
Final observations on "The Variable" --
First off, what a completely amazing mindf*ck. This will easily go down as one of the greatest episodes of Lost. My head hurts and I apologize for this being so jumbled. I'm sure I'm forgetting something important...
Favorite scene of the episode? When Dan warned young Charlotte. He wasn't so scary, but he was sobering in his honesty. He loved that little girl and you could see how much he really wanted to believe that things could be changed.
I'm always impressed with how previously seen flashbacks frequently come back and get fleshed out more. We got the Orchid scene from the season premiere that I already mentioned as well as the scene of Dan crying at the sight of the Flight 815 footage from "Confirmed Dead." Turns out he was in some sort of home with a caretaker - his experiments fried his brain just like Theresa's. Charlotte's memory tests with Dan using the playing cards makes a lot more sense now.
1954? Fonzie times? Hilarious.
We know Sawyer doesn't kill Radzinsky (since the guy offs himself in The Swan years later), so how are Sawyer and Juliet going to get away?
One final question - if people really are the variable, if they really do have some sort of freewill, if Ellie's goal is to save her son, then why did she send Dan back to the island? She could have told him not to take Widmore's job offer and lived out her days knowing he's still alive and not questioning if he was able to change it all. Could something bigger still be at play? Maybe we'll find out next week when Richard's role in all of this is finally revealed:
"Follow the Leader" - Jack and Kate find themselves at odds over the direction to take to save their fellow island survivors, Locke further solidifies his stance as leader of "The Others," and Sawyer and Juliet come under scrutiny from the DHARMA Initiative, on "Lost," WEDNESDAY, MAY 6 (9:00-10:02 p.m., ET) on ABC.