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Lost

Lost is a drama about a group of plane crash survivors. They land on an unknown Pacific island and have to learn to live together. ABC 2004-2010

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Episode 14 - The Variable

28 March 2012

Present: Daniel tells Jack that he wasn’t supposed to come back to the island. He races off to the Orchid and confronts Dr Chang. He tells him that he is from the future and that Chang is about to cause a catastrophic accident by drilling at the Swan station. Chang ignores him and Daniel returns to Sawyer’s house where he has gathered all the survivors together. Jack, Kate and Daniel head off to find Eloise. Sawyer tells the others to pack their bags and they will head for the beach. Daniel warns a young Charlotte to leave the island. Radzinski sees Daniel picking out a gun and ends up getting shot by Jack. He heads to Sawyer’s and finds Phil locked in his closet. Daniel tells Jack and Kate that people are the variables and through his free will he can stop the incident from ever taking place. That way they won’t crash on the island and he won’t end up there either. But once he confronts Richard with a gun and asks where Jughead is, Eloise shoots him.

Desmond is rushed to hospital but survives the gunshot wound. Eloise tells Penny that she doesn’t know what will happen now. Charles reminds Eloise that Daniel was his son too.

Flashback: Young Daniel wants to play the piano as well as study maths and physics. But Eloise tells him that he will have no time for music and must focus if he is to achieve great things. At his graduation she gives him the notebook and learns of his grant from Charles. After Daniel is dismissed from his work he is suffering badly from the loss of short term memory and the guilt of what happened to Theresa. He also cries over the wreckage of Flight 815. Charles comes to see him and admits that he faked the plane wreckage. He asks Daniel to go to the island. Eloise too encourages him to go and tells him that the island will heal his mind.

The Good: Good casting is often finding actors who look the part as well as ones who can act it. It’s easy to overlook how good Daniel’s acting is because he so looks the part. But to play the huge range of emotions he does here, all with his “twitchy” idiosyncrasies is a tremendous achievement. Throughout he displays his vulnerability and coupled with his tragic story he should draw deep sympathy from even the most hard-hearted viewer.

The episode ends on a deeply tragic twist when Daniel is shot dead by his own mother. It’s one of those moments that ensures viewers will have to watch the episode again to absorb the full impact and meaning of all that they have seen. This episode is as much about Eloise Hawking as it is about Daniel. When viewed again the tragedy of her life comes into sharp focus.

She is so committed to the theory that “whatever happened, happened” that it is with a deep sadness that she pushes her son toward his miserable fate. “It’s my job, to keep you on your path” she says with a clear sense of regret. As he gets older and closer to his end (at graduation) she still has the hope of any mother that somehow he might avoid his fate. “Good luck Daniel, and I do hope you know that I mean that” she says. She signs his gift “No matter what, remember, I will always love you.” Her rudeness to Theresa was clearly a protective effort on her part too. She knows Theresa will end up hurt one way or another by Daniel’s destiny. She clearly means herself when she says “The women in your life will only be terribly hurt.” Then when she gives him the final push (at the piano once more) she looks deeply upset as she lies to him about where he is going.

It’s possible that more light will be shed on her motivations and what Daniel got up to while in Ann Arbor (see The Unknown). But from what we know already we can see why Eloise was so committed to sending Daniel to die. Destiny or what the island wants to happen, have been big themes in Ben, Charles and Locke’s lives. Perhaps this faith in destiny is part of the Others religious or ideological beliefs. Certainly we get a better idea of why Eloise was so surprised to see Desmond try to change his path (308). It’s interesting that she is so concerned with people reaching their full potential. She tried to convince Desmond that pushing the button was the only great thing he would ever do. Here she is pushing Daniel to accomplish great things. Again there feels like a link between this attitude and the way the island has pulled the survivors toward something greater for each of them.

We do get answers to most of the questions surrounding Daniel. Charles was his father (see The Unknown). He did feel deep regret over what happened to Theresa and it was an accident (503). We see why he was down in the Orchid (501) and that he indeed had a carer looking after him when we first met him (402). We get confirmation that Charles was the one who planted the fake plane wreckage. That makes the most sense from what we know so far. It also makes you think again about Ben claiming he was the good guy when he convinced Michael to help him (408).

Some other nice moments: the survivors all want to stay on the island and not live in 1977 off the island. That only makes sense considering they all have their reasons for being there. Juliet giving Kate the code to the fence was a nice moment because it fulfilled two roles. The obvious romantic tension was there of course as she fears Sawyer’s feelings for Kate might return. But she is also just being practical. Now that they have locked up Phil there is no way they can stay in the Dharma Initiative. We know she learned to be cold and calculating while with the Others and while Sawyer is refusing to accept the inevitable, she is able to let go. I also liked Daniel double taking when he saw Richard looking exactly the same age. And Richard maintained his peaceful and calm attitude even in the face of Daniel’s threats (which was consistent from what we have seen of him). I liked that Desmond did actually get shot by Ben.

The Bad: What lets this episode down is how poorly thought out Daniel’s plan was. He walks into a camp of dozens of people with one gun and asks them to hand over a nuclear weapon. It looks so mindless. Threatening dozens of people with one gun just holds no weight. But worse than that, he doesn’t attempt any subtlety. If he really needs to get his hands on Jughead then he would be better off telling them he had come back to diffuse it. He should have realised by now that the Others job is to protect the island and so they were never likely to hand over a nuclear weapon under any kind of duress. I suppose you could make the argument that Daniel has only just concocted his plan because of the recent arrival of the survivors into 1977 but it still looks ridiculous. If he had asked to speak to Eloise without a gun he would have had a much better chance. Particularly after how calmly he dealt with them in the 1950s (503) and indeed how reasonable Richard was then, this plan just has no merit to it.

Not to mention of course that if Daniel were to set off a hydrogen bomb he would create a paradox. With no one alive on the island in 77 he would never come to the island in 2004 and be able to kill them all back in 77 and so on and so on. The time paradox issue is not something which he addresses, which again takes away from the sense that his plan was significant. Kate and Jack don’t really have time to react to his plan either. Kate would be serving a life sentence if the island hadn’t intervened. In a way it’s just too crazy an idea for characters like them to address which again just feels like a let down. It underlines one of the weaknesses of having a bunch of people travel through time but not freaking out and talking endlessly about how insane it all is.

I’m not happy with Dr Chang just batting Daniel off either. Perhaps he set things in motion off screen, but if one of your employees ran up to you claiming to be from the future, then you better inform human resources.

It was a tender scene when Daniel warns young Charlotte. But I would suggest to Daniel that he not fulfil his destiny just before trying to prove that he has free will. That is perhaps what is most discouraging about this episode and why it may leave many viewers on a downer afterwards. Daniel is the champion of free will here. He says that people can make their own destiny before being proven emphatically wrong. Lost has steered heavily toward people’s fates being sealed and their end date fixed. But to deny free will entirely is a depressing thought for the average viewer.

I stand by my criticism of Dharma giving their janitors the keys to prison cells and gun cabinets (511). Daniel explaining to Jack that they could be killed seemed like unnecessary signposting of what was about to happen. I also thought a poor line was a nurse at the hospital telling Penny “This nurse will watch your son.” Would you ever say “this” person instead of introducing them by name in a situation where they will be responsible for the welfare of someone’s child?

The Unknown: Eloise forces young Daniel to focus on his studies in order to achieve great things. I hope there is an explanation for her insistence on that throughout his life. Can we assume he built “The Lamppost” (506) while in 1977 or was instrumental in designing the Swan or something else which would justify her insistence on his behaviour? Again I hope it isn’t just a time paradox, where she saw him being sciency in the 50s and 70s and therefore that must be what he does. It just weakens the story for everything to have been set in motion just because that is what happened in the past.

Daniel seems to have pieced everything together about the Swan, Desmond, Flight 815 and even Miles’ lineage. How much of that did he discover before getting on the freighter and how much since going to Ann Arbor? I suspect we will never find out. Why is Daniel crying about Flight 815? The explanation that has been suggested is that his brain is somehow accessing emotions he will only feel at different time periods in his life. But that seems needlessly complicated, especially as Desmond was meant to be the only “special” time traveller. Why is Daniel’s last name Faraday if his parents are Widmore and Hawking? Why did Charles not have anything to do with his son?

According to Ben and Keamy (in season four), Charles wanted to kill everyone on the island. But if he knew that some of the survivors would go back to 1977 then why risk Keamy killing the wrong people? Are the Others about to meet Kate and Jack? If Eloise were to meet Jack now it would explain why she was so certain of his destiny when they talked in “The Lamppost” (506).

Best Moment: The twist ending is very tragic and depressing. Good television makes you feel.

The Bottom Line: There are three things I don’t like about this episode. The sense that we don’t learn much new about Daniel from his flashbacks is how I have felt about much of this season. The overly complicated web of the time travel story has made the narrative complicated in a way which can become annoying to watch. And finally that Daniel’s end should come in such an ignoble way with such a half baked, poorly considered plan.

On the plus side it’s another really good character episode for the most part and sets up an almost real time three part finale (in essence). Lost’s overall story is still strong enough to withstand some less than stellar moments.

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