Lost Season Five: The Incident
That was the explanation given by Dr. Marvin Candle in a Dharma Initiative orientation film as to why a specific set of numbers needed to be entered into a 1980s-style computer every 108 minutes on the ABC drama Lost. At the end of season three, it was also revealed that resident button-pusher Desmond Hume failed to enter the code on September 22, 2004, causing Oceanic Flight 815 to crash.
“I think I can negate that energy,” physicist Daniel Faraday tells Jack Shephard three years later—and three decades in the past—in regards to the fluctuations beneath the Swan Station. “If I can, then that hatch will never be built and your plane will land just like it’s supposed to in Los Angeles.” The small group of remaining survivors thus spend the season five finale, appropriately entitled “The Incident,” attempting to prove Faraday correct. By igniting a hydrogen bomb at the future site of the hatch, the reasoning goes, they can eliminate the electromagnetic energy as well as the need for the both the Swan and the button, in effect changing the future by wiping away their plane crash and all of the events that followed.
Time travel was the centerpiece of the fifth season of Lost, an apparent side effect of “moving the island” from the end of the previous year. The predominant group affected—James “Sawyer” Ford, Juliet Burke, Miles Straume, Daniel Faraday and Jin Kwon—immediately found themselves bouncing between the past and future after that event until they eventually landed in the 1970s. From there they joined the Dharma Initiative, the shadowy organization that populated Lost Island before being violently eliminated by the equally mysterious Others. While the narrative device allowed the series to further explore and paint a more vivid picture of the Dharma Initiative, Lost also explored the “rules” of time travel. As explained by Faraday, “You cannot change anything. You can’t. Even if you tried to, wouldn’t work. Time, it’s like a string. We can move forward on the string, we can go in reverse, but we cannot ever create a new string. If we try to do anything different, we will fail, every time. Whatever happened, happened.”
Which makes the decision to eliminate the Swan Station in the finale an intriguing course of action. From the very beginning of the season, Lost continually affirmed and reaffirmed that one could not use time travel to change the future. Faraday later elaborated on his initial observation by adding that it didn’t matter what actions they took in the past because they would inevitably be the actions that had already taken place. Thus while Sawyer and his rag-tag band of time travelers knew that someday the Others would exterminate the Dharma Initiative, they do not warn them. “I’m not here to play Nostradamus,” Sawyer remarks at one point. The bad-boy conman even tells Jack that he could have left the island and prevented the deaths of both his parents but didn’t, repeating that “whatever happened, happened.”
Although Sawyer and company were content to play by the Daniel Faraday rule of time travel, at least two members of the group that later joined them in 1977—Jack Shephard and Sayid Jarrah—are less willing to follow those guidelines. Sayid, for instance, shoots a 12-year-old Benjamin Linus in an attempt to change his own future of becoming Ben’s personal hit man, but to no avail. When Jack then refuses to save young Ben’s life by operating on him, believing that he indeed has an option in the matter, Kate Austin takes matters into her own hands and finds another way to save the child’s life. The irony, of course, is that if Sayid had not shot Ben, or if Jack had chosen to operate, a very different Benjamin Linus might have emerged in later years. By attempting to change their fate, Sayid and Jack actually caused the very future they wanted to prevent. Miles Straume later points out that detonating the hydrogen bomb may instead cause “the incident” the group is trying to prevent as well, but his words fall on deaf ears.
While the 1970s group of Lostaways were trying to take control of their future by changing the past, another member of Oceanic Flight 815 was attempting to build a future that had no business existing in the first place. Ben strangled John Locke off island, but when the plane carrying his body crash-lands on island, the deceased John Locke is again alive and well and ready to assume the mantle of leadership in relation to the Others. First, however, he commands Richard Alpert, the never-aging “advisor,” to take him to see Jacob, the allusive island head-honcho. Locke confides to Benjamin Linus that his true intention is to kill Jacob, but in the end it is Ben—who has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to manipulate people—that is manipulated by John Locke to commit the murder himself.
Although mentioned as far back as season three, Jacob had never appeared on Lost until the end of season five. And while both fans and critics of the show have speculated and formulated a multitude of theories regarding the series, it wasn’t until the opening and closing scenes of “The Incident” that the first true hints of what was going on were finally revealed.
In that opening scene, Jacob is seen sitting on the beach of the island, eating a folded-lettuce fish taco. He is visited by someone, known simply as the Man In Black, who is curious about an ancient sea vessel lingering offshore. “You’re trying to prove me wrong,” he tells Jacob in regard to the ship. “They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt,” the Man In Black adds, apparently referring to mankind. “It always ends the same.”
His counterpart—dressed in contrasting white—answers back, “It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.” It would appear that these two island entities are some sort of personification of God and Satan, and have philosophically debated the merits of the human race numerous times in the past.
The Man In Black goes on to tell Jacob that he wants to kill him and that someday he will find a “loophole” which will allow him to do so. That loophole is found at the end of “The Incident” when it is revealed that John Locke is indeed dead, and the entity masquerading as Locke is in actuality the Man In Black. He then succeeds in bringing about the death of his rival when Benjamin Linus inevitably does the dastardly deed, but not before the Man In Black tells Jacob, “You have no idea what I’ve gone through to be here.”
It would appear that all of the events that have transpired since Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on the island have been orchestrated by the Man In Black as a way to achieve his goal of killing Jacob. But he is not alone in this manipulation, as Jacob is seen throughout the episode, via flashbacks, of briefly meeting—as well as touching—at least eight members of the Lostaways: Jack Shephard, Kate Austin, James “Sawyer” Ford, Jin Kwon, Sun Kwon, Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, Sayid Jarrah and John Locke. Apparently the now-deceased island deity has a plan of his own.
Locke commented in the pilot episode of Lost that the game of Backgammon featured “two players, two sides. One is light, one is dark.” The finale episode of the penultimate season of Lost proposes that the entire premise of the series is a game as well, played out between two rivals that are likewise “one light” and “one dark.” In terms of which player is better at maneuvering their pawns—as well as whether those pawns have a choice in the matter or are already predestined to act accordingly—the answer will now doubt be left for the final episode of the sixth, and last, season of Lost. Then again, maybe Daniel Faraday has already answered at least part of that question when he justified his philosophical change of heart about altering the future from “you can’t” to “you can.”
“I finally realized I had been spending so much time focused on the constants that I forgot about the variables,” he tells Jack Shephard. “Do you know what the variables in these equations are? Us. We’re the variables. People. We think, we reason, we make choices. We have free will. We can change our destiny.”
In the case of the characters on Lost, only time will tell whether that assessment is true or not.