Overthinking Lost: Episodes 2.17-2.24

Overthinking Lost: Episodes 2.17-2.24

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from Sydney, Australia, aboard Oceanic Flight 815.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from Sydney, Australia
Aboard Oceanic Flight 815.

The pilot was eaten by a monster made of smoke,
The doctor brave and sure.
A whole bunch of passengers set sail that day
For a fourteen and a half hour tour.  A fourteen and a half hour tour.

The electromagnetism started getting rough,
The tiny plane was tossed,
Despite the courage of the fearless crew
The airplane would be Lost.  The airplane would be Lost.

The plane set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle
With Jack Shepherd,
The con man too,
The Asian guy and his wife,
The fugitive,
The torturer and John Locke,
Here on Henry Gale’s (maybe?) Isle!

Well.  That was fun.  But it’s not all fun and games today, kids.  I’m being perfectly serious.  Obviously Gilligan’s Island and Lost are similar in superficial ways—my above song shows that quite clearly.  And hilariously.  But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I think Gilligan’s Island can help me continue to answer Eric’s question from last week, a question I think I couldn’t properly wrap my head around until after I saw Lost’s season two finale.  Eric asked about my theories about fate and free will on the Island, particularly in regards to that damn hatch button and timer.  This isn’t only Eric’s question; this is a question brought up time and again in the show itself.  Are we on this island for a reason?  Is this our fate?  Must we push this cursed button?  Or are we free to do what we wish?

First, I think a trip to the dictionary is in order.  What are we talking about when we talk about fate?  Dictonary.com says fate is

1.    something that unavoidably befalls a person; fortune; lot: It is always his fate to be left behind.

2.    the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed; the decreed cause of events; time: Fate decreed that they would never meet again.

3.    that which is inevitably predetermined; destiny: Death is our ineluctable fate.

4.    a prophetic declaration of what must be: The oracle pronounced their fate.

5.    the Fates, Classical Mythology. the three goddesses of destiny, known to the Greeks as the Moerae and to the Romans as the Parcae.

The Fates: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Groucho, Chico, and Harpo? Damn my memory.

The Fates: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Groucho, Chico, and Harpo? Damn my memory.

Okay, let’s take these definitions apart.  We can see from the above definitions that fate is inevitable.  Fate involves time.  It usually has a negative connotation.  Fate can be prescribed by goddesses.

Last week, I said that fate must be religious in nature.  If fate is what is decreed to happen, someone has to do the decreeing.  That person can be a Christian God, the Fates, Lady Luck, or the supernatural/electromagnetic forces of the Island.  But someone or something mystical has to make things come to pass, or it’s not really fate.

Eric rightly said, Well, that’s one way of thinking about it.  But fate doesn’t have to be written by anyone.  Just look at definition number 1.  Fate is something that ultimately befalls a person; that doesn’t necessarily imply that someone else chose or created that fate.  Something can be fated but not chosen.  Okay, I guess I’ll buy that.  I do think most people would say that the word “fate” implicitly suggests some religious elements, but I could just be making that up.  But there’s one thing we and all of the above definitions can agree on: whatever fate is, and whatever causes it, you can’t fight it.  What is to be, will be, regardless of who, if anyone, decided it.

I argued last week that pushing the button was not fate-related.  Yes, the characters on the island have to do it—they have little free will when it comes to the timer—but there’s a difference between fate and duress.  If someone like the Dharma Initiative says “do this or else everyone dies,” that’s not fate.  That’s duress.  The characters are being forced to do it.  They’re not being forced by supernatural beings or forces.  They’re being forced by a film strip and their own lack of courage.

Then Locke got the courage.  I’m not quite sure how he went so quickly from, “I have faith in everyone and everything, including the button” to a nihilist who thinks his little pathetic life and the button have absolute no meaning, but whatever.  More power to him.  He’s come over to Team Rationalist—my team.  Thank you, John.  Even though your actions have possibly led to the downfall of everyone on the Island, your decision to destroy the hatch computer made at least one viewer very, very happy.

So we see that Locke has free will.  Being forced by the Dharma Initiative to push a button can’t be “fate,” because Locke was able to disobey it.  Remember, according to the definitions, fate must actually occur, or else it’s not really fate.

“But, Shana,” you’re saying (I know you’re saying it), “what if Locke was meant to destroy the computer?  What if he was fated to do that?  Remember that when Desmond failed to push the hatch button, it led to the crash of Oceanic Flight 815.  Maybe he was fated to screw up his button duties so the plane bearing Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and the rest would come to this very place for a very specific purpose!  And maybe Locke was supposed to make some other plane crash for another specific purpose!”

To that, my friends, I can only say this.  Let’s take a look at Gilligan’s Island.

From left to right. Top: Bernard, Rose, Shannon, Locke, Kate Bottom: Sayid, Jack

From left to right. Top: Bernard, Rose, Shannon, Locke, Kate Bottom: Sayid, Jack

Gilligan’s Island, for those of you who don’t know, don’t remember, or don’t care to remember, is a show about a bunch of castaways on some deserted island.  Every week, the Professor uses his know-how of coconut and bamboo technology to build some kind of device or boat or something to get off the island.  While he’s doing this important work, most of the other characters are off in their own meaningless dramas.  Finally, the time is right to use the Professor’s new technology.  And what happens?  Gilligan screws it all up.  They stay on the island for another week.  Tune in next time.

Now tell me this: is this Fate?

Remember the above definitions.  Fate is something that inevitably befalls a person.  Well, inevitably, every week, Gilligan screws up one of the Professor’s inventions.  Inevitably, everyone remains on the island.  This is what Must Be.  It is Gilligan’s destiny.

But some of you are saying: “No, no, that’s totally different!  There’s nothing supernatural going on on Gilligan’s Island!  There’s no Dharma Initiative or Others mucking about behind the scenes.  The only thing forcing Gilligan and co. to stay on their island is the convention of weekly television programming.  The only reason they can’t get off the island is because, if they did, the show would end.”

Tell me, friends.  Look inside your hearts.  Is that not the same thing as Fate?  Is there truly a difference between Gilligan’s and Lost?

I’ll admit, my tongue is a little bit in my cheek.  But it’s not stuck there.  It’s just poking around.  Because, for the life of me, I can’t really tell if there’s a difference between Lost and Gilligan’s Island when it comes to issues of fate vs. free will.  Either both shows run on a fate principle (they can never get off the island—they are destined to be here—they have a reason to be here), or they both don’t and everything’s based on a coincidence and circumstance.  I can’t really see much of a difference, fate-wise, between the two shows.  I could definitely see the Professor drinking himself to near-oblivion, screaming, “We’re stuck in a bloody snowglobe!  There’s no world except for here!”  And he might very well be right.  You know, when Gilligan’s Island ended, they didn’t get off the frickin’ island?  They could still be there for all we know!  Because it’s their destiny!

When I watch Lost and Gilligan’s Island, the only fate I see is the fate made by the shows’ respective writers.  Any evidence you can give me from Lost that proves that its operating under a fate-principle can be explained away equally as well by a rational explanation.  It might be a science-fictiony explanation, but it will still be based on physical evidence, such as another Dharma Initiative film strip or a flashback.

Moreover, even if there were some reason for the characters to be on the Island, and even if it does turn out there was a reason for these specific people to be pushing that hatch button, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were fated to do so.  It could just mean someone—maybe the Dharma Initiative, maybe the Others and their possibly-psychic kidnapped children—forced them to do so.  That’s duress.  That’s not fate.

And that’s the end of my post.

…Um, why does something tell me I’m going to be biting my tongue about all this in a few weeks?   I’m also fairly sure I’m going to get in trouble over this fate-bashing in the comments.  Well, let loose.  Just remember, no spoilers. Fate has decreed you will not spoil me.

Next time on Overthinking Lost: Team Jack gets picked up by The Love Boat?

14 Comments on “Overthinking Lost: Episodes 2.17-2.24”

  1. igge #

    Great overthinking as usual! As much as I’m intrigued by your take on fate, I’d like to ask you about a completely different thing.

    Lost, so far, has revolved around character. Who were these people before the crash? How did the crash change them? And ultimately, who are they going to become on the island? But towards the end of season 2 you get to see a new side of the island; I’m talking about the four-toed statue.

    This island they’re stranded on is clearly an extraordinary place. It heals the sick, it has weird electro-magnetic properties (By the way, you didn’t comment on the very end of the finale!?), and it also has a “mythological” aspect to it. In the finale of season one you get to see the Black Rock, and in the season two finale you see this mysterious, four-toed foot. How did the Black Rock end up on the island? Who created this eery statue? Not to mention the Black smoke – What the hell is that?

    My question is simply, are you intrigued by this mythological aspect, and these questions, perhaps even more than the character part? If so I’d really like to hear your thoughts on them!

    Oh, and another thing worth mentioning: Have you noticed how the people who got to the island have been in dramatic, perhaps life-threatening situations? Rousseau’s ship ran aground; Henry gale crashed in his balloon; Oceanic flight 815 broke apart in mid-air and went down; Desmond arrived unconscious on his, according to Kelvin, wrecked boat.. Is this just coincidence, or is there a reason behind it? (They died and are now in purgatory, perhaps?)

    Anyway. Long comment, I’d better wrap it up. Thanks for doing these analyses, looking forward to the next one!


  2. Mittelos #

    I read these analyses every week, and they’re great. You’re really onto something with the whole fate vs. free will deal. Lost is certainly not done with that debate yet.

    I’m glad you noticed the statue. That was a pretty cool moment when I saw it too.

    I’m curious about your thoughts on Michael and Walt. Do you think they’re going to really get off the Island, or is it a ruse by the Others?

    Great piece, and I can’t wait for next week’s!

    P.S. A lot of fans don’t like the next few episodes much, but if you feel the same way, don’t get discouraged. The show really picks up afterwards.


  3. Jayemel #

    It’s tough to compare Gilligan’s Island and LOST because, as you say, all TV shows and movies (and books, etc) have fate because the writers are controlling the characters. Technically, the characters don’t have free will. This view is the omniscient point of view however (that the writers necessarily must have). However, if you take the characters’ POV, then Gilligan’s Island had free will and LOST might.

    A shift in terms is need though. It’s not about fate, but determinism. Is life up to you or pre-determined by something (a mystical force, our biology, etc)? Fate is too simplistic a term because, I can have free will, and then say, based upon my choice, what happened was “fated” to happened. In contrast, determinism eliminates choice. I don’t have one. What will be will be. In other words, Desmond chose to join the race and was thus fated to push the button or it was pre-determined he would crash on the island and push the button.

    You’re asking some important questions, especially regarding Locke. His character seems so paradoxical at times, so which is his true nature? Is he really the man in the state of nature or is he the wuss that keeps getting conned by his dad? Is the latter version a commentary on social contract theory by the writers?

    And, for the record, the opening to Season 3 has some good and some bad episodes, just like any other seasons.


  4. R7i1c3K #

    Don’t let the writers fool you… Every time you get close to figuring it all out, they’ll throw you for a loop and make you question your own theories. I’ve been following your stories, and very interested to see what you make of all of this…

    …That being said, again, don’t let them fool you; The creators use pop culture references a lot, but remember who the creators are. They’re mystery writers. Their whole job is to throw you off course as much as possible.

    Look for the things you’re not supposed to see. Colors, episode speed progression, objects surrounding scenes. It’s all clues to the bigger picture.

    Great job. Can’t wait to read more. :)


  5. Tom P #

    I’m not quite sure how he went so quickly from, “I have faith in everyone and everything, including the button” to a nihilist who thinks his little pathetic life and the button have absolute no meaning, but whatever.

    Sure you do. Locke had built this entire, meaningful experience in to what had been happening to them for all these months. He was a guy in a dead end job who life had f*cked over hard. Now he finds himself in a position of leadership and convinced he’s doing important work. But Locke, with his years of life, is still this broken down, fragile dude with low self-esteem who just saw this whole tower he built around himself come crashing down. And when it comes crashing down, he realizes he’s back to being a guy sitting behind a computer pushing buttons and that it’s not important work. It’s not meaningful. It’s doing someone else’s bidding with the promise it will make your life better. Just like it was before. He feels betrayed and stupid and he overreacts.

    If anything, Locke is prone to overreacting. He gave a dude a kidney after knowing him for like six hours. He became immediately convinced that this random hatch was the key to his future. He decides to go on a walkabout while paralyzed. He’s a mark — and when he realized (or thought he realized) he was a mark for himself, he went crazy.


  6. Paulo Brabo #

    I am expecting the moment you’ll touch the post-modern (read non-chronological, fragmentary) nature of Lost’s storytelling. What I particularly like about Lost is the way our perceptions about the characters (and about the direction of the narrative itself) keeps changing according to the particular order the pieces of the story are presented.

    The Lost story could be told in a multitude of ways, but the writers keep choosing the most misleading one — hopefully for a reason.


  7. Gab #

    In defense of Sayid, I don’t think he necessarily *enjoys* torturing people. He just sees situations where it’s a necessary evil. And he’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for everybody else. Think of him kind of like the Assassin from _Serenity_, he’s doing some icky stuff to make the world his companions are in safer.

    Do you think the events resulting in Eko’s becoming a priest make his priesthood any less or more legitimate than if he had thought, “Oh, I want to be a priest?” Why did *he* have a sudden change in direction/motivation?

    What’s gonna happen to WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALT?


  8. TheMagician #

    Just gonna give a heads up that the whole Fate vs. Free Will question will be answered once and for all in Season 5 finale. And it’s gonna blow your mind, it sure did mine.


  9. ken #

    I am not sure they will ever answer fate vs free will. i think it will be the one question we will still be talking about after the series is over.

    i <3 your brain


  10. Gab #

    I’m with Ken: I highly disagree that fvfw? gets answered and believe that it never will- and that, I’m guessing, is sort of the point of the show. Or at least one of the goals the writers had in mind when they set out- making us think about it but not answering it for us.


  11. Kevin #

    I’m a little confused by your recap of “Live Together, Die Alone”… you finish with:

    “And my favorite part: Locke says, “Screw this,” and lets the hatch timer run out. Sure, he seems to have been wrong—some very bad seeming electromagnetic discharge makes the whole island shake and the sky turns purplish white—but the world doesn’t end, either. So score one for Locke?”

    It’s clear from the episode that tragedy was averted only by Desmond turning the failsafe key and destroying the Swan station (pieces of the Swan get blown all the way to the beach — the hatch door, etc.), so it must’ve been one helluva force! And by episode’s end Des, Locke and Eko are still missing. So you can’t say Locke SEEMS to have been wrong — he’s most definitely wrong, and pushing the button in fact DID have a purpose and was NOT just a psychological experiment. The only reason the world (or at least, the island) didn’t end is thanks to dear ol’ Des.

    And I’m also surprised you didn’t bring up the actual final scene from the season finale: the electromagnetic disturbance Locke caused (and Des fixed) was picked up by a research station far, far away… allowing the island to be located… by a crew working for Penelope Widmore. So that definitively wraps up at least one big theory debated in the first two seasons (are the Oceanic survivors actually dead and in Purgatory/Limbo/whatever, for starters)… since that scene sets up Season 3, I was surprised that didn’t get any mention.


  12. Glenn #

    Just thought I’d point out a few things that it looks like you may have missed. I’m not sure if they’re important and maybe you noticed them but didn’t think they were worth mentioning, but here it goes:

    Kelvin is the same person that taught Sayid how to torture in his flashback from “One of Them”. Also, Kate’s dad (not the real one she blew up, but the one from the army) interrogates Sayid in this episode. This one I’m fairly certain is just another of those connections they like to throw in, like Sawyer and Ana Lucia meeting Jack’s dad or Eko investigating a miracle involving the daughter of the psychic that told Claire to go to L.A.

    The second thing I’d like to point out I think is slightly more important and may affect your opinion of the smoke monster from last week’s post. In “The 23rd Psalm” when Mr. Eko is staring down the smoke monster, the camera pans through the smoke and if you look closely at the flashes of light you’ll see moments from Eko’s past inside. So yeah. There you go.

    I thought there was something else too but I can’t remember it now…


  13. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Kevin: Well, I only said “seems to have been wrong” because A) I’m still not sure what would have happened if Desmond hadn’t turned the failsafe key–sure, the world could have ended, but the force also could have just destroyed the island, or it could have done something else entirely like send the island through a black hole so everyone could help the crew of the starship Enterprise. And B) I don’t think this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Dharma Initiative is telling the complete truth about the nature of their work on their orientation videos. We also learned in “Live Together, Die Alone” that the pneumatic tubes from the Pearl station go directly to the middle of nowhere so the notebooks could be read by exactly no one. It does seem still to me that at least part of their work is a psychological experiment–otherwise, why have all the video cameras everywhere?

    As for why I didn’t bring up the very end of the episode with Penny… I just forgot :) Thanks for reminding me.

    @Everyone else: Thanks for all the great comments. I’m going to put off answering a lot of your questions until next week’s article.


  14. Eric #

    I’m glad you’re looking at my question so much! A few more things…

    There is a question of fate vs. free will. Do the characters have a specific fate? And if so, who controls (or controlled) that fate? What if the characters themselves created (or are creating) that fate… then it would be free will, right? Or not…

    There is a very unique way of looking at this question with an answer I have never heard suggested before. Problem is, it only becomes clear much later in the show. But it doesn’t hurt to toss around in your head a bit.


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