"I tried to avoid telling you this. I didn't think I could change things. But maybe I can." -Daniel FaradayWe've all of us -- fans watching at home, characters living on Craphole Island, writers crafting it all in Los Angeles -- spent a lot of the last few months discussing the idea of whether the past can be changed, or whether everyone's fate has already been set. And as Faraday -- the chief proponent within the series of the closed loop theory -- moved around the island during "The Variable," acting very much like a man who now believed he can change the past, I started to believe that he could. He could really stop The Incident, save the lives of all those on Oceanic 815, prevent Charlotte from ever returning, be the big damn hero man that I so wanted him to be.
But in the end, as he lay there in the middle of the Others' camp, dying from the bullet that his mother put in him, Dan acknowledged that he was wrong, that this was the plan of the island, of his mother, of destiny, and it always had been. His mother raised him(*) and guided him towards this moment, forever keeping him on a path where he'd wind up going to the island, and where he'd be in a position to be shot by her younger self.
(*) How old is Faraday supposed to be? The Eloise who shot him in 1977 looked to be roughly the same age as the Eloise who made him give up his piano playing, and young Dan seemed like a kid who'd always lived on the mainland. (And was also relatively unaffected by the time-sickness, as compared to Charlotte and Miles.) But Eloise still seemed to be living on the island at the time, and Jeremy Davies is almost 40, so... is he playing much younger at the same time Rebecca Mader was playing much older?
And as he realized that, I began to think about the events that brought all of our characters to the island, and the ones that kept them there, or brought them back, and about how much of who they are, what they are and where they are has absolutely nothing to do with their conscious choices. Whether by fate, bad luck, the forces of the island or their own dysfunctional parents, our heroes (and some of our villains) were moved into position like pieces on a chess board, and always have been.
And I'm not sure how happy that realization makes me, even at the end of an enormously entertaining episode like "The Variable."
As I noted in discussing "Whatever Happened, Happened," the how and the why of events can be at least as compelling as the what -- that even if all the events in the past, present and future of the island are pre-ordained (in the real world, by Cuse and Lindelof; in the show's universe, by the island), seeing how the characters react to those events can be compelling. But if all our heroes are just pawns in a game they don't understand and can't control -- with the possible exception of Desmond, who survived being shot by Ben at the marina, and who has yet to re-insert himself into the main narrative -- then at some point "Lost" becomes a little less fun to watch.
Or maybe I'm just feeling slightly down, even after an episode I mostly loved, because I'm wondering -- as I did in "He's Our You" about the reason for the Ben/Sayid schism -- whether that's really all there is. Did Eloise really push Dan all his life to be a great physicist just so she could fulfill the course of history and shoot him in 1977? Yes, he's done a few important things since coming to the island -- most notably helping a younger Ellie (and an ageless Richard) deal with the radiation leak from Jughead -- but unless Eloise is a hardcore purity of the timestream nerd, surely she must have had a grander plan in mind when she set her only son on this course, no?
Did Dan maybe set something in motion that's bigger than we realize at this point? Is it possible that The Incident, and all that followed, wouldn't have happened if he hadn't come back and stirred up all this trouble with Dharma? Or is Dan, just like Charlotte after the end of "Jughead," not as dead as I'm assuming him to be?(**)
(**) This would be the point in the review where I remind you once again of the No Spoiler policy, and that includes discussing the previews for the next episode. I know the previews for the episode after "Jughead" showed a still-living Charlotte, but if Dan happens to be walking around in the ads for next week's episode, I wouldn't want to know it, and I know other people around here wouldn't, either.
Still, whatever comes next, and what the implications are about the larger scheme of the series, "The Variable" was a crackling hour, carried, as "Jughead" was, by Jeremy Davies' intense but vulnerable performance. If Faraday's dead, at least he went down fighting to undo his mistakes, and to save not only all the Oceanic 815 passengers, but Charlotte.
(Kate notes to Jack that it would be bizarre for the last few years of all their lives to be erased, and of course there's the fact that, if Oceanic 815 never crashes, Dan would never be in a position to meet Charlotte. But I'm sure he's happier with the idea of Charlotte alive but unknown to him than the end he already witnessed for her.)
Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz's script incorporated pieces of Faraday's story from throughout his run on the show, from the scene of him crying as he watched the fake crash footage in "Confirmed Dead," to his plan to use Jughead to prevent The Incident, to the idea (speculated about at least since "Jughead") that Widmore was his father. (This would make Dan into Penny's half-brother, and Desmond's brother-in-law.) I assumed we'd eventually see Dan fulfilling his pre-ordained role as the crazy-eyed man telling young Charlotte to never return to the island, but Davies still slayed me with the tenderness in his voice as he gave the speech he knew he had to, even as he hoped things would turn out differently this go-around.
(And good on either the writers or director Paul Edwards for choosing to pull back once it became clear that's what that scene was; it felt both unnecessary and almost a violation of the characters' privacy to show the rest.)
Davies has been such a great addition to the cast, and Faraday to the universe of the show, that I'll be sorry if this is it for them, whatever the larger implications may be. But he won't be the first great "Lost" character to die before his time, and with only a few episodes left in this penultimate season, he sure won't be the last.
Some other thoughts on "The Variable":
• Cuse and Lindelof have referred to "The Variable" as a sequel of sorts to "The Constant," so it made sense to feature Desmond and Penny, even if they only appeared at the beginning and end of the hour. Those two are awesome. I really have nothing else to say. But I hope the writers can find a way to bring Desmond back into the action without separating him from Penny and li'l Charlie.
• Here's how I know Sawyer's time as the all-wise leader is at an end: he's starting to get funny again. "Your mother is an Other?" was the line of the night. Though Hurley referring to 1954 as "Fonzie times" was a close second. ("Happy Days" was, in fact, originally set in
• Look, I'm as interested in seeing JJ Abrams' take on young Kirk and Spock as the next Trekkie, but letting the "Lost" logo morph into the star field for an extended "Star Trek" promo really ticked me off. "Lost" is a show about mood, and every bit of it -- the title sequence included -- is a part of creating that mood. And turning that sequence into product integration broke the mood, big-time.
• Along the lines of Daniel only causing things to happen that were always destined to happen, might he have set things in motion for Dr. Chang to send his wife and son off the island? I'm sure we haven't seen the last conversation between Chang and adult Miles on the subject.
• One bit of the past I would love to change: we know Radzinsky survived past the time of the Dharma purge, and I will wish somebody could just put a bullet in his brain 20 years ahead of schedule. So, so irritating. Intentionally so, I think, but still.
• Though "The Variable" wasn't designed as a special 100th episode of the series, it did manage to use more of the cast than has been the average this season, with everybody but fugitive Sayid and the gang on the island in 2007 present, and with all of them briefly hanging out together at LaFleur's cabin to make their plans. Now, togetherness isn't peachy for everybody -- check out how quickly Juliet gave Kate the sonic fence codes after she caught her man referring to her as "Freckles."
• What kind of outfit, even a relatively hippie-dippie one like the Dharma Initiative, gives a key to the gun cabinet to the custodial staff? Those guys deserved to be wiped out just for that.
That's it from me. In addition to the No Spoilers rule, let me remind you again to be courteous to your fellow commenters and make an effort to at least skim the previous comments to make sure you're not repeating some familiar insight like you're the first person it's occurred to. If a comment includes a phrase like, "I'm sorry that I don't have time to read all the other comments," it's going to be deleted. Period. Also, play nice with each other, as always.
What did everybody else think?