Hurley's bitchin' Camaro car chase is a nice metaphor for how season four premiered compared to past seasons. The first three seasons always began with the focus on a new group of islanders, and it would take an episode or two to really pick up steam. This season's premiere blew past all that and began where season three left off — in a weird, disorienting place. We're starting in a flashforward, but it's prior to the flash-forwards seen in "Through the Looking Glass." Future Jack's proclamations to Future Kate that they need to go back are at odds with what pre-beard Future Jack says to Future Hurley, "We're never going back," which suggests we're in store for a slew of Future character developments. The standard eyeball shot didn't even come until half-way through, when Hurley peered into Jacob's shack and someone else peered back. Christian's not the only walking dead anymore, and it seems Hurley will be a more pivotal figure in events to come, while Ben's role is diminished to something of a punching bag. But amidst all the disorientation, the fierce symmetry of the narrative remains. I don't think too many in the audience were displeased.
The episode did more to raise questions and set the playing field for upcoming episodes than it did to answer any questions. We still don't know what Naomi and the freighter folk are about, or what work Walt thinks Locke has to do. So let's get some of the questions out in the open:
Why was Christian Shephard in Jacob's rocking chair?
If Charlie is a figment of Hurley's imagination, why did the other mental institute patient see him?
Corollary: Why is Charlie appearing in the first place? When he appears against the two-way mirror in the interrogation room, did the writing on his hand — "they need you" — refer to the rest of the Oceanic Six, or someone else?
Corollary to the corollary: A two-way mirror seems like a suggestive symbol.
After Jack, Kate and Hurley, who are the other three of the Oceanic Six, and what are they hiding? Is the man in the coffin from "Through the Looking Glass" one of the six?
What does Ben know about the people on the freighter?
Corollary: Is that the same ship that Sam Thomas from the Find 815 game is on? The Oceanic commercial that aired after Lost suggests the auxiliary game that usually occurs outside of the regular season will be continuing during the season, making that ghost limb of the narrative much more real. (With Thomas, we also have Tom and twin again, and the auxiliary games have become a kind of twin to the standard narrative.)
Yet another corollary: Just how much damage can Ben take? Is the island giving him a healing hand?
What do the freighter folk want with the island, and who is Naomi's sister? Is she on the boat? Does she really have a sister?
Subtle literary reference corollary: Naomi's trick of back-tracking on her blood trail is what Danny Torrance used to fake out his mad dad at the end of Stanley Kubrick's film version of Stephen King's The Shining. Danny realizes he's leaving a trail of tracks in the snow while rushing through the hedge maze, and carefully goes back over them, stepping into his previous tracks, to make his trail look like it just comes to a dead end. Jack Torrance follows the wrong trail, as does island Jack, and in both cases it's the woman who finds the trailblazer; Danny's mom Wendy finds Danny at the mouth of the maze, and Kate finds Naomi out in the jungle — or Naomi lands on Kate. But from Naomi's doubling back to the Oceanic Six's hiding something from the public, covering tracks is becoming somewhat of a theme. This isn't the first time we've seen a Kubrick nod, either.
Might the fact that Charlie is appearing again, and that Christian Shephard is seen all over the island, have something to do with the leaked DHARMA Initiative orientation video for the Orchid Station?
Corollary: Dr. Edgar Halowax (i.e. Marvin Candle/Mark Wickmund from the previous orientation videos) is seen holding a white rabbit with the number 15 painted on it. He mentions how the island's unique properties creates a kind of Casimir effect that allows them to — and that's when another version of that rabbit falls into the room behind Halowax, and the good doctor has a minor fit, yelling to keep the two rabbits away from each other. It's two rabbits, but they're the same rabbit. We don't find out what the Casimir effect allows them to do (yet).
Corollary to that corollary: The Casimir effect, laid out by physicists Handrik Casimir and Dirk Polder in 1948, basically postulates the possibility of vacuums existing at the quantum level. This creates a subtle physical force between all matter that can only be measured at the sub-micrometer scale. The Casimir effect was proved in 1996 by Steven Lamoreaux at Los Alamos Labs. Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne have suggested that if you could get your hands on something they called exotic material (aka virtual particles) and employ the Casimir effect, you could theoretically create a wormhole, those hallways in time. We already know about Hawking, black holes, wormholes, electromagnetism, and how they're subtly being worked into the Lost narrative. So are we really dealing with ghosts, or are we dealing with the same Charlie and the same Christian, but from some other spacetime, like the same rabbit appeared from some other spacetime? And is the use of the name Thomas (meaning twin) a subtle hint in that direction?
Yet another corollary to that corollary: If the above corollary holds, perhaps Drs. Marvin Candle, Mark Wickmund, and Edmund Halowax are not the same person as we think of it, but three versions of the same person from different spacetimes. Interestingly, there has been a surge in academic work this past year, particularly by Oxford physicist David Deutsch, mathematically showing that yes indeedy, there most likely are parallel universes to our own existing right along side ours, and we just can't access them.
How did Hurley come across Jacob's magic shack? In what was the episode's central scene (thematically and temporally, it's in the center), Hurley's encounter with the shack is very suggestive. First, there were the whispers again. Does Jacob have something to do with those whispers (and has anyone gotten an amped up audio of those whispers)? Second, when Hurley peers into the shack in that very carefully framed shot and sees Christian Shephard, an eye appears on the other side of the broken window, an eye that looks suspiciously like the eye seen in "The Man Behind the Curtain" after Jacob called out "Help me" to Locke. If that eye is Jacob's, that means there's at least a third person on this island who has seen/heard the man himself. And third, Hurley runs away and when he looks up, there's the shack in front of him again; maybe that circle of ash in "The Man Behind the Curtain" was meant to hold the shack in place.
Corollary: This means someone brushed away the ash from around the shack. Given that Locke is the one who found Hurley out in the jungle, I think we have a good candidate.
Yet another corollary: The shot of Hurley peering into the shack is very carefully framed. The window is broken in just such a way as to make a circle around his eye and leave a small square space for his face, framing just his eye, nose and mouth. It's that kind of careful attention to structure that hints to the audience the writers/producers are not winging anything — the smallest detail is carefully crafted.
Even when the narrative seems to be getting off in a dizzying number of directions, there's still the visual and narrative symmetric echoes to offer a sense of shape and direction. For instance, in season two the Tailies joined up with the Lostaways, so all the survivors were together again; here, however, we have the survivors splitting apart again, some going to the barracks with Locke, some going to the beach with Jack — it's the opposite of what the first half of the narrative was about. Future Hurley finds himself at rest in the same sanitarium he once stayed in; Past Hurley had conversations with a (seemingly) imaginary Dave, and Future Hurley once again has a conversation with a (seemingly) imaginary Charlie. The flashbacks of the previous three seasons will be counterbalanced by the flashforwards of the other side of the narrative. And whereas the action hero types took central leadership roles in the first three seasons — Jack, Locke, Sawyer — happy, hurting Hurley is now grabbing some initiative and making determinations for the group (like throwing Sawyer's radio into the ocean). He's doing what he can to honor Charlie's memory and what Charlie died for.
There will be plenty of speculation about what's going on in the coming weeks, but the auxiliary material may help somewhat. Take the mobisodes, the miniature unseen scenes released for mobile phones before they were made public on the web. In the twelfth mobisode, a flashback of Juliet making muffins in the barracks, she has an envelope that contains some damning information about Ben. Let's see if that has anything to do with the freighter folk. Maybe the most intriguing of the (admittedly uneven) mobisodes was the thirteenth and last one; it takes place just after the initial crash of Oceanic 815, and starts from Vincent's point of view as he romps through the jungle. Someone is calling him; he has white shoes; he's wearing a suit; it's Christian Shephard, and he tells Vincent to go wake up his son because he has work to do, just as Walt tells Locke he has work to do This all takes place just a minute before we first see Jack's open eye in the pilot episode. One thing to keep a watch on, then, is how each upcoming episode is structured in comparison to previous episodes — recall how Locke's waking up in the jungle after the Swan Station implosion mirrored the opening Jack sequence in the pilot episode. Now that we've reached the crux of the narrative and the flashes have switched from flashbacks to flashforwards, and given the show's intense attention to detail and mirror symmetry, we may see scenes which recall parallel episodes from the first three seasons in that mirror-twinned fashion, equal yet opposite.
(Did you notice all the close-ups of Kate's face? Those once prominent freckles are still just not there...)
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island