SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, make sure you’ve bought a card and made dinner reservations for Mother’s Day. Then watch last night’s Lost.
“The Variable” came with the burden of expectations. The was the fact that it was going to center on Daniel Faraday and his knowledge of The Island. There was the advance buzz encouraged by the producers, who called it one of their favorite Lost episodes ever. And there was the title itself, which alluded to “The Constant,” one of the best if not the best Lost episodes of all time.
I don’t think “The Variable” (until its last moments) rose close to that level as an hour of television; it advanced slowly on the Island—though there was a neat callback to the first scene of the season and a heartbreaking encounter between Daniel and child Charlotte—while the backstory we got of Daniel and Eloise was the sort of troubled parental relationship we’ve seen a lot on Lost.
But as two hours of television, it becomes more interesting. If you go back and look at the flashbacks in the episode after that holy-crap last minute, and realize that everything Eloise is saying, she is saying from the standpoint of a woman who knows that she is going to fatally shoot her own son,* then it becomes fascinating. And sad. And kind of twisted.
[* If she fatally shot her own son. From this point forth, my review is predicated on the premise that Daniel Faraday is dead. Which—on the not-until-they-cut-off-and-burn-the-head theory of Lost, he may not be. In which case the implications of his death—both emotional and narrative—are shot to hell. Which is exactly why I hate the use of fake-deaths on shows like Lost; because they poison every actual death on the show afterward by making you question its veracity.]
Of course, you have to go back and re-watch, or at least re-think about it, for those scenes to have new meaning. Which is why I could see this episode being a favorite of the producers, who presumably saw it repeatedly in editing bays. I’ll be curious to see how it struck those of you who watched it once.
[Update: This, by the way, is one of the rewarding aspects of Lost as it gets well into its fifth season—so many of its most affecting moments are scenes we've already watched several episodes or even years ago, now given new meaning because of what we now know, or reprised with slight, but essential, differences in perspective. Lost's history both repeats itself and rhymes.]
If Daniel is in fact dead, it was a fine sendoff for Jeremy Davies, who elevated the show every minute he was on. His final end was emotionally brutal—realizing his mother was far worse even than the scientific stage mom he thought her to be, and, worse, realizing that, after finally convincing himself that he could in fact change the events of the past (and thus spare Charlotte in the future), he had failed in the end, through betrayal by his own mother. It was not just bloody and sad but existentially crushing to see the light go out in his eyes.
But back to Eloise: there is something very important in what she says to Penny in their last moments together, and I’m not sure what or why it is. “For the first time in a long time, I don’t know what is going to happen next.” Why? What has suddenly changed? It seems as if her certainty has been shaken by something equivalent to Ben’s seeing Alex die (“He changed the rules”); something has changed and made the future uncertain. It can’t be her having killed Daniel, since she’s lived with that knowledge the past three decades. Perhaps it’s connected with Desmond’s return—his coming, at the behest of her son, is literally Daniel’s last communication with her from beyond the grave. Or maybe she knows that Daniel—or his companions—have managed to change something that we do not yet know about. But really, I don’t know how to interpret that line, except that I’m sure it’s important.
When one door closes, I suppose, another opens, and with the passing of Daniel Eloise suddenly becomes much more interesting. In particular: why was it so important for her that he go into science and return to the Island? Why, more important, is it so important that—even knowing she will murder her own son—she does not try to turn him from that path but actively encourages it? Is it possible that she thinks, hopes, prays, that by going to the Island with the freighter, he will manage to change time and keep her from killing him? (Though if that’s the case, it seems to undermine everything she’s been saying about destiny and the immutability of the past since we’ve met her.)
I’m hoping that there is a reason beyond her believing that, because Daniel’s death happened, it therefore must happen—there’s something unsatisfying about the circular time-travel logic by which characters are motivated simply to make sure that events we know to have happened, happen.
Does that make any sense? Am I getting a nosebleed again? And why am I getting the unfortunate feeling that Eloise’s actions would become much clearer if I went back to see what she said to Desmond in “The Constant”? Suddenly, it feels like this hour of television is turning into three hours of television.
With that, the hail of bullets:
* As long as I’m asking questions here, here’s a big one: just what is the objective of the Oceanic survivors on the Island now? What is their purpose? Jack’s intent in going back was to save the rest he left behind, right? But now he finds that Sawyer and Juliet would rather stay, Hurley seems to be doing fine and—well, where the hell exactly is Rose and everyone else anyway? Before the Oceanic Six escape, his endgame was getting everyone off the Island. What’s his endgame now?
* “I’m not allowed to have chocolate before dinner.” Of all the callbacks in this episode, that was the most gut-wrenching.
* “He’s my son too.” I couldn’t let that pass, although I’d seen the Widmore-is-Daniel’s dad theory enough not to be floored. I’m more interested, though, to know what that slap was all about. Good, at least, to know that he’s a consistently lousy father (and father-in-law).
* There were, however, at least a few light moments in the episode: “You guys were in 1954? Like, Fonzie times?”
* So are we to assume that Jack and company, having seen Daniel fail at his mission, are going to try somehow to finish it? Didn’t Chekhov say something about your having to detonate a hydrogen bomb if you put one on stage in the first act?