Thursday, February 28, 2008

'Lost': Checking the Time / Doc Jensen / Is there a wormhole on the Island? Doc Jensen's thoughts. Plus: what to know for tonight's ep

'Lost': Checking the Time
Is there a wormhole on the Island? Doc Jensen's thoughts. Plus: what to know for tonight's ep
By Jeff Jensen

Do you REALLY need one after last week's massive download of coy hints and contextual info for all of season 4 from exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof? Of course you do!

DOC JENSEN: Last season, you touted the Desmond-centric episode ''Flashes Before Your Eyes'' by saying that it ''uses the flashback device in a way you've never seen before — and will never see again.'' Does tonight's Desmond-centric outing, ''The Constant,'' uphold that pledge?

DAMON LINDELOF: '''The Constant' upholds that pledge, unpledges it, then repledges it. Also, there's a really cool auction in it.''

An auction scene? With the nifty numbered paddles? I'm there!

In which Doc Jensen shakes his magical Orb of Knowing at a burning question for the sake of edifying Lost theorymaking.

According to Daniel Faraday's rocket experiment, there is a 31-minute time differential between the Island and the freighter. However, we have seen the freighter folk communicate with their ship in real time via satellite phone. Many fans want to know: Is this a continuity error?

How do you explain it?
MEB: How do YOU explain it? You're going to have to work a little here, ''Doc.''

Harrumph! Well...could it be that there are certain frequencies that aren't affected by whatever forces account for the time differential?
MEB: Ding! Ding! Ding! See? These Lost mysteries aren't so mysterious! Try another one. How about the time differential? What's your theory on that?

Oh, great. We're really going to show the world just how weak-ass my physics game is. Okay: Clearly, we're dealing with Einstein/general theory of relativity here —
MEB: Oh, ''clearly.'' You don't know what you're talking about, do you?

How come you're talking like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men now?
MEB: ''Now''? Now is not a time. Sigh. Doc, have you ever tried just thinking about these mysteries more — oh, I don't know — simply? Let's start with the most interesting thing about the time differential scene, which wasn't the differential itself — it was Faraday's reaction to the differential. Remember what it was?

I remember he wasn't exactly happy.
MEB: If that's how you want to characterize it, fine. Now, what might that suggest?

That he got a result that he wasn't expecting?
MEB: Go on.

That maybe the time differential isn't ''constant,'' to use the title of tonight's episode. Like, maybe if Faraday did his rocket experiment again, the differential would be bigger, smaller, or even nonexistent.
MEB: Very good. Now, I'm not going to tell you which of those three possibilities is correct. But...all three point to one idea about the Island that all Lost theorists should keep in mind. Can you figure it out, ''Doc''?

Why are you mocking me? Don't mock me! I didn't invent you as a storytelling device just so you could make fun of me, Magic Eight Ball! We can just as easily never do this again and then you wouldn't exist anymore!
MEB: So my current status is highly...''unstable''?

Damn skippy! As unstable as Jacob's Shack! As unstable as the Hatch! As unstable the varied forms of Dr. Marvin Candle! Yeah! You're a flickering candle, Magic Eight Ball, and I'm going to snuff you out! Your wick is dwindling! Even now, the wax of your existence is pooling in the saucer of my — WAITAMINUTE! Is that what you've been trying to tell me? That the Island flickers in and out of existence like my candle analogy? That the laws of physics themselves are in constant flux on the Island?
MEB: As always, you get ahead of yourself and make everything so much more complex than it needs to be. Just keep this one word in mind: unstable. Now let's go grab a taco.


Back by popular demand:

This week, no crazy non sequiturs, dubious pop culture tangents, or flat-out lame jokes. Only helpful information. Honest! Today's cheat sheet is indebted to two books: Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions, by Lisa Randall; and The New Time Travelers, by David Toomey.

Dedicated to all you wormholes out there. You know who you are.

A bunker buried in the jungle, properly known as the Swan, and part of the Dharma Initiative, a Utopian science outfit financed by the Hanso Foundation. It was allegedly created to study the Island's unique electromagnetic fluctuations. In the finale of season 2, the Hatch either exploded or imploded; regardless, it went bye-bye, leaving nothing but a charred crater behind. Desmond, Locke, and Mr. Eko were all inside the Hatch during this destruction event. They, too, should have been blown to smithereens. Instead, Desmond woke up naked, Locke woke up mute, and Mr. Eko woke up delirious. To this day, I have been convinced that Lost has not given us a satisfying explanation for how those three survived. But yesterday, a theory came to mind. First, we must revisit:

A pivotal season 3 episode in which it was revealed that after Desmond turned the failsafe key, he experienced something like time travel; his Island-present consciousness downloaded into his flashback-past self. Even more odd, when his mind returned to the Island present, Desmond came back with ''flashes'' of the future. Did Desmond's consciousness simultaneously expand forward and backward in time, then reverse course and contract back into his head? Does super-electromagnetic Desmond have the ability to omnisciently experience the arc of his existence (or his ''worldline,'' to use a word coined by Lost-cited egghead Hermann Minkowski) all at once, but chooses not to, or at least, only in manageable ''flashes''? Perhaps tonight's episode will offer illumination. During his ''Flashes'' flashback, Desmond learned from a mysterious lady named Ms. Hawking two things about the nature of Lost time (assuming that she was being truthful, of course): Both free will and predestination are at work. Hawking warned Desmond that if he proposed to Penny, ''every single one of us will die.'' But then, after they witnessed a man's death, Ms. Hawking told Desmond that despite knowing the man's fate, she was powerless to stop it; the universe would have found a different way to kill him. This brings us to:

David Lewis is the name of Charlotte Staples Lewis' father. (We know this from when Ben ran down Charlotte's bio at the end of ''Confirmed Dead.'') David Lewis is also a famous thinker in the field of physics. During the 1970s, he gave a series of lectures about the topic of time travel. One of his most important contributions was a response to the problem known as ''The Grandfather Paradox.'' This is the idea that a time traveler can't go back in time and kill his grandpa because it would create a new timeline in which the time traveler would have never come into existence. Lewis resolved this paradox by simply suggesting that in a world where time travel would be possible, creating paradox would be impossible; the cosmos would basically work against you and execute what Desmond would call...

Example: Charlie. But two things about Charlie's death: (1) Fate technically didn't kill Charlie. Remember what happened: Desmond flashed on a new version of Charlie's death — one that offered a future that was beneficial to all castaways. Heroically, Charlie embraced this fate. Charlie exercised his free will and essentially killed himself. (2) Regardless, Fate got what it wanted. Which brings me back to the mystery of how Desmond, Locke, and Eko survived the Hatch implosion. Were they saved by ''The Grandfather Paradox''? Did Fate spare them because they just weren't supposed to die yet? Maybe. And if so, it would be awfully convenient; Lost could basically get away with any leap in narrative logic by chalking it up to ''course correction.'' Ironically, this is exactly the complaint that many physicists have to paradox theories like the one suggested by David Lewis. Which brings us to...


Igor Novikov was a physicist whose name is attached to the most famous theory addressing time-travel paradox: the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle. Similar to Lewis, Novikov advocated ''course correction.'' But many others — including Matt Visser, who coined the phrase ''Novikov Consistency Conspiracy'' — opposed Novikov's articulation because it implied the work of supernatural agencies. A religious person (like Charlotte's namesake, C.S. Lewis) might call this agency ''God.'' An open-minded scientific person might call it ''Maxwell's Demon,'' named after James Clerk Maxwell's tricky thought experiment, discussed in this space a couple weeks ago. Novikov himself called it by another name, a name connected directly to Lost: ''Jinn,'' a word from the Koran for a category of formless magical entities that defy the laws of space-time. (The Monster, for example, could be a ''Jinn.'') But I might suggest a fourth candidate, one that our old X-Files friend Dana Scully would find hard to swallow but at least puts us in a plausibly human arena: an honest-to-God conspiracy, executed by Cancer Man-ish agents like Ms. Hawking, Brother Jerome (Desmond's former monastery boss), and many others. The Lostverse is populated by people struggling to avert catastrophic paradox and perhaps battling each other over the proper form of ''course correction.'' This raises the question: How would these flesh-and-blood ''demons'' know the future? Answer:

The Orchid is the name of another Dharma Initiative station that we have not yet seen, but will, soon. (Next week, to be exact.) A version of the Orchid's orientation film was released last summer by the producers of Lost; you can see it on YouTube or at The film suggests that Dharma was trying to harness the unique energies of the Island in order to conduct experiments in time travel. It mentions something called the Casimir Effect, which points toward the kind of energy that Dharma was harnessing. What would negative energy be good for? Growing and maintaining a most volatile distortion in the fabric of reality, or ''Minkowski space-time,'' a distortion known as:

I bow before the feet of many other Lost theorists, including J. Wood at, who've brought wormholes into the Lost conversation much earlier than me. If you're a sci-fi nut, you know all about wormholes, a theoretical phenomenon in space-time that can connect one point in time to another. Novikov speculated that wormholes could mature into ''natural time machines.'' If the Island is basically ground zero for a small, localized wormhole, then it's very possible that Dharma was to create a kind of quantum switchboard, connecting calls between Island present and the future or the past. I wonder if the name ''Miles Straum'' is another clue nodding in the direction of wormhole theory. The producers say ''Miles Straum'' was meant to sound like ''maelstrom,'' which is a massive, monstrous whirlpool in the middle of an ocean. Not a bad analogy for a wormhole in the South Pacific, eh?


I know what you're thinking. You mean to tell me that I gotta know all this noodle-cooking stuff to understand Lost? My answer is this: If any of this is accurate, I'm betting it'll probably be explained just as generally, if not more so, as I did here. But here's the curious thing about all this. Science is supposed to be the process of making the unknowable knowable, right? This is essentially the argument against supernatural forces: They're just phenomena we haven't explained yet, phenomena like Lost's Monster, ghosts, and various other ''jinns.'' But the current direction of physics suggests that science has gone so far down the rabbit hole that they're coming back to where they started: to a view of reality marked by inherent unknowability. Concepts like ''braneworld cosmology'' advocate the existence of dimensions embedded in our reality that defy natural order. I wouldn't be surprised if, at the end of the day, Lost rallies around Edward Mitten's ''M theory,'' a unified theory of reality that incorporates multiple dimensions (10, to be exact) plus a bonus 11th dimension marked by supergravity. What does the ''M'' stand for? Witten never said. It could mean ''magic,'' ''membrane,'' or ''mystery.'' In fact, Lisa Randall offers the idea that the ''M'' means ''Missing theory.''

Sounds like Lost to me.


Burning Question of the Week!
''Am I the only one that wonders why no one on the island ever wears shorts?'' — John Cleckler

Damon Lindelof responds: ''Actors look silly in shorts.''


— Doc Jensen

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Doc Jensen: 'Lost': Mind-Blowing Scoop From Its Producers / Doc Jensen / 'Lost': Mind-Blowing Scoop From Its Producers

'Lost': Mind-Blowing Scoop From Its Producers

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse tell Doc Jensen what they'll answer this season, how they're handling the time/space plot, what's relevant (or irrelevant) to the story, and more

By Jeff Jensen

If I had to sum up tonight's episode XXX I'd say, ''Let's just ask executive producer Damon Lindelof.''

''Remember last week when you were left wondering if Ben was a member of the Oceanic 6? Well, the last line of dialogue of this episode will cause the fans to ask a very similar question.''

Okay, since you brought it up, Damon: Is Ben a member of the Oceanic 6?

''Nothing precludes him from being a member of the Oceanic 6 — other than he wasn't on the plane,'' says Lindelof. ''But he does have a room full of documents and passports. He could have just, you know, done some research and doctored some records and adopted the identity of someone on the plane — someone with no family or friends who would know otherwise. So who's to say he isn't?''

So...when will we know for certain?

''By the end of the seventh episode, the audience will now know who the Oceanic 6 are.''

Well, whaddyaknow: a Doc Jensen column with some genuinely useful information for a change! And guess what?

We're just getting started.

''Sometimes, a bracelet is just a bracelet.''

No cheat sheets this week. (Though may I suggest you bone up on Philip K. Dick's ''Valis Trilogy'' in preparation for tonight's episode?) No reader mail. (Next week, I promise.) And no crazy theories from me, either. Now that the strike is finally over, it's time we heard from the majordomos of Lost themselves, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof.

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with the producers for a wide-ranging conversation about the new season. Check out the new issue of EW for their thoughts on getting back to work after the strike, XXX. But in this space, you will the hear producers speak out on a variety of issues: the structure of the season; the big mysteries that will — and won't — get resolved; the relevance of extracurricular stuff like the recent ''Find 815'' alternate reality game; and the proper way to ''read'' the show's flash-forward stories. But perhaps most provocatively, the producers offer their rules for time travel and alternate realities — rules that many of you currently engaged in wild theory-making about the interpretation of time/space on Lost will find interesting, even challenging.

We pick up the conversation with Damon and Carlton discussing one unforeseen advantage of the recent writers' strike: being able to respond to audience confusion. (Note: teases and spoiler stuff are at the end. Veggies before dessert, you know.)

CARLTON CUSE: If we were sitting down with you right now, and there hadn't been a strike, we would be in the middle of writing the finale. The entire season would have been done and the audience would have only seen two or three episodes. Now, we actually have an opportunity to react and adjust to how people are feeling about everything.

DAMON LINDELOF: Naomi's bracelet in the Sayid episode is a key point here. I got some e-mails from people who wondered if there was a connection between Naomi's bracelet and the bracelet worn by the woman Sayid killed in his flash-forward. There is no connective tissue. Sometimes a bracelet is just a bracelet. We just thought it would be a cool emotional touchstone for Sayid; Elsa's bracelet reminds him of Naomi. But some people interpreted that, ''Is there something more there?'' We might need to address that.

CUSE: But this is a commentary on how the flash-forwards work. We were very concerned if the flash-forwards would have the same emotional resonance as flashbacks because people naturally, easily understand flashback storytelling as a device. The bracelet is one example of where people, I think, can get lost.

DOC JENSEN: Some people are even wondering if the flash-forward stories in each episode are being presented chronologically. For example, did the opening sequence of Sayid's flash-forward — in which he killed the Italian guy on the golf course in the Seychelles — actually occur after his ill-fated Elsa affair?

LINDELOF: There was originally a line in that episode where Sayid said, ''I've just returned from the Seychelles,'' which would have cleared all that up. But we lost it in editing because the scene went on for four minutes. When we're presenting you with a narrative, it's always happening in chronological order.

CUSE: Lost is complex and dense, but we are very conscious of the limits. If we are going to jump time, we're not going to jump narrative order within the time jumps, too.

LINDELOF: We wrote the Sayid episode before the Boston Red Sox won the World Series a second time. So when Jack said to Frank Lapidus, ''Did the Red Sox really win the World Series?'' and Lapidus says, ''Please don't remind me,'' certain subsets of the Lost audience began asking, ''Is it possible Lapidus is actually from 2008?!'' But you have to understand: we are not writing the show for now. We are writing the show so that when you put it in your DVD player 20 years from now, you don't have to understand the nuances of the Red Sox winning the World Series, only they hadn't won it in a long time.

CUSE: But you won't have a DVD player, Damon.

LINDELOF: It'll just be downloaded into your brain.

DOC JENSEN: Another popular theory making the rounds is that we're dealing with alternate realities. For example, there are people who think the flash-forwards are merely possible future scenarios, not written in stone.

CARLTON CUSE: We want people to believe in the stakes of the show. The problem with alternative realities is that you never know when the rug is going to be pulled out from under you. We want the audience to believe that the jeopardy is real. Postulating alternative realities would be an escape valve that would be damaging that as a narrative value.

DAMON LINDELOF: You can get away with it in Heroes, where there is an apocalyptic future you want to avoid. But we're doing the opposite. We want to work toward a future where Jack is absolutely miserable and wants to go back to the Island. Everything we present to the audience has to be factual.

CUSE: We want the audience to believe that is THE future. We don't want people thinking, ''Well, since there are five iterations of this, I'm not going to invest in what's happening to the characters.''

LINDELOF: We're not going to tell you that we're against bending the time/space continuum. We are very for it. Carlton and I are PRO time-space continuum bending! But we're ANTI-paradox. Paradox creates issues. In Heroes, Masi Oka's character travels back from the future to say, ''You must prevent New York from being destroyed.'' But if they prevent New York from being destroyed, Masi Oka can never travel back from the future to warn you, because Future Hiro no longer exists. Right? So when we start having those conversations at Lost, we go, ''This show is already confusing enough as it is.'' To actually have characters traveling through time has to be handled very deftly.

CUSE: For example, the fifth episode of the season [airing next week] deals with XXX. It was a tough story to break. But we adhere to our rule: no paradox.

LINDELOF: It's been weird, though. When we got back from the strike, we had to put up a master timeline of the future, from the point where the Oceanic 6 will end up leaving the Island all the way up to where the flash-forwards will end.

CUSE: XXX How do you illustrate [a] timeline when time isn't entirely linear? XXX

LINDELOF: — just to debate the quantum physics of it all.

CUSE: [We'd need] to bring in a professional illustrator. [They smirk.]

I have a sneaking suspicion you're pulling my leg on some of this stuff.


CUSE: But we do feel this is a place where we can challenge the audience to create a chronology — where Sayid's story happens in relationship with Jack's story, etc. We'll be adding pieces of that mosaic over the course of these five hours that should hopefully leave you with some fairly clear understanding of what happened between the time the Oceanic 6 were rescued or returned to the real world and Jack and Kate's final scene in the season finale.

DOC JENSEN: How would you describe the general structure of the season?

CARLTON CUSE: This year, it's all about the castaways' relationship to the Freighter folk. Since day one, their goal has been to get off the Island. XXX

DAMON LINDELOF: The big mystery looming over this season is, how did some people get off the Island and what happened to the people who didn't? That's the mystery that we owe the answer to at the end of the season, in addition to who's in the coffin. We could be winky about the coffin all the way through season 5. But that was one of the first things we talked about when we got back to work on the new episodes: We definitely have to show who was in the coffin. That's the primary super-structure of the season. As a result of that, certain thematic elements — the element of fate or supernatural elements as they relate to the monster and Jacob — are certainly in play but not as interesting to us this season as these questions: Why do some of the characters leave? How do they leave? What are the circumstances under which they leave? Why do some stay? Is it a choice? Is it an accident? Both?

CUSE: There are larger cosmic questions involved in that. Daniel Faraday's rocket experiment in the Sayid episode, which established a time differential on the Island, was a very important scene XXX. We've learned a lot about our characters' relationship to the Island, but now we're going to learn their relationship to the outside world once they've been on the Island. This is an important new idea to the show.

What's the deal with Jacob's shack? It keeps moving. Then Hurley saw Jack's father rocking in Jacob's chair.

CUSE: You will definitely see more of the cabin and it was very observant that many fans noted the presence of Jack's father inside the cabin. We'll shine a little bit more light on that later this season. This is stuff that is a big part of the show going forward, but in terms of the final five episodes of the season, those are not the kind of questions we'll be answering.

Hurley also saw an eyeball looking back at him. Should we be wondering about the identity of the owner of this eyeball?

LINDELOF: You should be wondering, certainly.

CUSE: One of the definitions of omniscience is to be in more than one place at a time.

LINDELOF: I always thought that word was pronounced omni-science.

CUSE: Well, you've learned something new today.

My annual inquiry: Will we be dealing with the Adam and Eve skeletons this season?

LINDELOF: No. But they will be addressed.

More Dharma Initiative intrigue this season?

LINDELOF: You haven't seen your last station. But the larger mythos, like ''The Purge'' — that's more season 5.

CUSE: We showed the Orchid video orientation film at Comic-Con — that is important for this season.

Someone at my office wants an answer to this question: Wasn't it just a little too convenient for Penny to be calling the Island at the exact same moment Charlie killed the dampening field in the season finale?

LINDELOF: Good question. Here's how we always thought of that: What we always imagined was that Penny has an auto dialer in the bedroom of her house and in various places that is constantly sending some sort of transmission to the coordinates that were revealed at the end of season 2. So when Charlie turned off the dampening field, her auto caller indicated that her call could go through.

Now that they have a satellite phone, why doesn't Desmond just call Penny?

LINDELOF: XXX the rules of the satellite phone [will be explained] XXX

The Sayid episode established that Ben's got this list of bad people that need executing. What can you say about these people?

CUSE: We'll know by the end of the season that there will be two alternative explanations for why Oceanic 815 is in the trench at the bottom of the ocean. It will not be clear which story one should believe. [To be clear, Cuse is saying the mystery of Ben's list is linked to this wreckage.]

LINDELOF: Both stories will be presented and both stories will have legitimate facts presented on their behalves.

CUSE: The act of taking a plane, filling it with dead bodies and putting it at the bottom of the ocean connotes a group that is pretty freakin' powerful. You should be worried about the people involved in either scenario capable of doing something like that.

Is one of these groups ''The Maxwell Group,'' a mysterious outfit introduced via the ''Find 815'' alternate reality game?

LINDELOF: We cannot say that any of that stuff in ''Find 815'' is in canon. The Maxwell Group is something that Hoodlum came up with. Last fall, we presented them with the idea that, at the beginning of the second episode, a salvage ship was going to find wreckage of Oceanic 815. From there, they came up with a story — and backstory — that led up to that event. [Some background: prior to the strike, the producers and ABC's marketing team hired a company in Australia called Hoodlum to execute ''Find 815.'']

CUSE: We provided the creative framework but didn't oversee the execution.

LINDELOF: I'll sign off on this idea: the Christiane 1, which in the show was responsible for finding Oceanic 815, was in fact looking for the Black Rock. We established that in the show — but the people who owned the ship may have been up to a little bit more than just looking for the Black Rock.

So what's official and what's not? What's ''canon?''

CUSE: The mobisodes are in canon. The Orchid video is in canon. The videogame is not in canon. It's unfair for the audience to go to ancillary sources in order to really understand the show. Even the things like the mobisodes, which are in canon, aren't essential to your understanding of the show. These things are just added bonuses.

LINDELOF: The only true canon is the show itself.

DOC JENSEN: You've certainly picked some interesting names for your Freighter folk. How should we be interpreting them?

DAMON LINDELOF: With Miles Straum, we just thought it would be cool if his name sounded like ''maelstrom.'' Charlotte Lewis was an obvious reference to C.S. Lewis and an important clue to places we're going at the end of the season.

CARLTON CUSE: And an important clue to Charlotte's own, as-yet-untold important backstory.

LINDELOF: One of our producers, Eddie Kitsis, has been pitching to us ''Frank Lapidus, Helicopter Pilot'' for years. Daniel Faraday is an obvious shout-out to Michael Faraday, scientist and physicist.

CUSE: As is Minkowski, who's on the Freighter. Those names are clues related to the space/time issues that will become more significant downstream.

For the record, is the official lingo here ''the Freighter folk''?

LINDELOF: I like ''Freighter folk'' because you wonder if there's an album cover out there somewhere with all of them, and they have The Mamas and The Papas outfits on.

CUSE: ''Freighter folk'' is more benign. And they're not the only people on that freighter. You're going to meet some other people on the Freighter who have another name, and in contrast to those folks these freighter folk are very...uh, folkish.

How about Matthew Abbaddon?

LINDELOF: ''Abaddon,'' we dug that one out of Wikipedia. When we name people, we often do Web searches on certain verbiage or if we want to pull something out of Greek mythology or Native American mythology, like, ''Who was the god of wheat?''

CUSE: I can't believe you're telling Jeff about the god of wheat now! The entire second half of the fourth season is about the god of wheat!

LINDELOF: Wasn't your nickname at Harvard ''the god of wheat?''

CUSE: No, it was god of rye.

LINDELOF: You see how I get confused.


Until next week, friends — Namaste!

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