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The re-boot of the third season of Lost began last night with a dive back into the kinds of mysteries and foreshadowing that make the narrative so compelling. The episode "Not in Portland" focuses on Juliet, the fertility doctor/Other who wanted Ben dead at the end of the six-episode miniseries. She hasn't been on the island for very long; the first clue to this comes in the flashback when she's walking down the hall of a hospital with a clam-shell mobile phone. Those phones haven't been around for all that long, and certainly weren't available in the '70s when the Dharma Initiative got its start on the island. They're advanced, but not that advanced. Later she tells Jack exactly how long she's been on the island — three years, two months, and twenty eight days. Since Ben was so kind as to give us an exact date in the second episode of the third season, November 29, 2004, that means she arrived on the island on September 7, 2001 (just four days before the world turned upside-down).
She was once married to one of the first hyper-referential characters of the episode, Edmund Burke, whose namesake is also the 18th C. Anglo-Irish philosopher and conservative politician. I personally think that using such names is a bit of a game to keep the audience looking; there wasn't much in Juliet's husband's character that aligned him with the historical Burke, except that they're both dead. But that doesn't mean that some thematics are being evoked. Burke wrote a particular treatise early on in his career called A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind. The work was taken as a blueprint for anarchy, but Burke later claimed it was satire (at least when he was outed as the author). Of interest in that treatise is the claim that no one can really judge a Scene (as he calls it) without actually being in that Scene. In other words, what seems strange or mad in, say, Beijing would be perfectly acceptable in Denmark, and if you were Chinese, you wouldn't get it until you'd been to Denmark. Burke goes on to criticize organized religion as a misery-bringing tyranny, and looks at history as a series of massacres and horrors. In this light, Burke has some things in common with Enzo Valenzetti and his famous equation that was to address such horrors.
In Juliet's backstory, she's also visited by a representative from Mittelos Bioscience, a research group interested in her fertility work — Juliet was able to impregnate a male field mouse. The representative, Dr. Alpert, may share the same name as LSD guru Timothy Leary's buddy who changed his name to Ram Dass. Right now, this isn't certain; there was a Mittelos Bioscience website put up for a while registered to a Richard Alpert, but the site ended up being a hoax. On the other hand, TV Guide lists the character as Richard Alpert, and if so, the connection stands. Alpert/Dass was a professor at Harvard with Leary, and they were both dismissed for experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. Alpert then went off to India to follow a guru for a while, then returned to the United States to become a psychonaut leader of spiritual awareness, and is probably best known for his book Be Here Now. The eastern meditative traditions Dass follows reflects the mix of spiritual traditions demonstrated both by the Dharma Initiative and the narrative itself (agnostic to atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, etc.). The Lost Richard Alpert also introduces Kate to the other fertility doctor, Ethan. This means Ethan joined the Others only recently as well.
Mittelos, by the way, is also German for indigent, or without means or material wealth. The online community was on top of this before the episode was even aired, as well as Mittelos being an anagram for Lost Time. The "Mittel" in Mittelos also recalls the man who took over Alvar Hanso's position as head of the Hanso Foundation, Thomas Mittelwerk. Mittelwerk, by the way, doesn't occur as a German name anyplace, but was the name of a Nazi work camp. The title of this episode gets its name from Alpert telling Juliet that Mittelos Bioscience is in Portland, but not quite. Speculation: Is Mittelos a front company for Mittelwerk and in opposition to the Dharma Initiative? Are the people who work for Mittelos the other Others? And if so, does this mean that Ethan defected from that group to give his allegiance to Ben?
In the frontstory, Kate and Sawyer are freed by Jack, and then allowed to remain free by Juliet and Ben. But before they can get off the Hydra island, the Other who's leading them, Alex (Rousseau's daughter), wants to free her boyfriend, Carl. This is where more allusions come into play: The Other guarding Carl, Aldo, is outside the compound where Carl is held, and is reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. The producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have made no secret that they're playing with time/space in the Lost narrative — what with the flashbacks intercutting the present narrative, and some sly suggestions in the podcasts that the characters may not be in the same time that we think they're in. And Desmond is seeing some things before they happen. Hawking's book tries to break down how time/space operates for a lay audience, which has a lot to do with how electromagnetism interacts with gravity and strong and weak nuclear forces. But more importantly, Hawking tries to present an insider's narrative that helps explains the mysteries of the universe (or at least present where they start to come together, since there still is no grand unified theory of physics where what works on the macro, planetary level also always works on the subatomic level). In that way, Hawking's book models what so many of the Lost audience attempt to do: find the interstitial connections across this narrative universe and present theories that unify these connections into something fully comprehensible. Of course, we'll never get that; it'd ruin the good time.
Aldo's name is also evocative; it's not a common name, and so draws attention to itself. Aldo Leopold was an early 20th C. environmentalist and ecologist who began the field of wildlife management as we know it. He's the kind of scientist that Hanso would have recruited to, say, work with transitioning polar bears from a polar to a tropical climate. (Aldo was also the name of the leader of the gorillas in the later Planet of the Apes films, and those gorillas became the ape military.)
When Kate, Sawyer and Alex finally find Carl, he's strapped to a chair in an over-stimulation chamber, listening to thumping music and forced to watch a screen with images and words flashing by at about one image every second (a bit shorter than the length of the average film take, which is supposed to match up with our own human immediate attention span). Like Alex from Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Carl is being fed nutrients intravenously and has to viddy films in a forced re-education to calm his uncooperative nature. But there's no Beethoven to be heard, just heavy beats. In between the crazy images flashed on the screen are lines like "Plant a good seed and you will joyfully gather fruit," "Everything changes," and "We are the causes of our own suffering." Sawyer is even taken by the images on the screen and has to be snapped back to reality by Kate. As they drag the catatonic Carl out of the room, the final image flashed on the screen is of Gerald DeGroot, the man who established the Dharma Initiative out of the University of Michigan back in the '60s and early '70s.
Narratively, "Not in Portland" echoes the first episodes of the first season, marking it as a kind of rebirth. But it does so in the kind of mirror-twinned way that occurs at the level of characters who have similar attributes but opposite responses to those attributes. In the early episodes, Jack had to perform surgery on the injured marshal, who held power over Kate. Hurley helped Jack, but had a rough time with the blood. Here, Jack is performing surgery on Ben, who holds power over Juliet, and Tom is the one with the blood problem who helps Jack. And like Kate, we also learn that Juliet is indirectly responsible for the death of her ex; she tells Alpert that the only way Edmund would allow her to go to Portland and work for Mittelos is if he were hit by a bus, and she indeed gets her wish (a bus emblazoned with the Apollo Bar logo; Apollo has good aim). But Kate is more pro-active, while Juliet is more passive in her resistance. And like the marshal, Ben comes to while his body is torn open (and seems to eerily channel a Willy Wonka-ish Gene Wilder persona while strapped to the operating table). But whereas the marshal tries to warn Jack about Kate, Ben wants Juliet brought to him so he can speak with her; we the audience aren't privy to their conversation, but in both cases, the marshal and Ben discuss Kate and Juliet's freedom, respectively. Mirror twinning is just one of the great narrative tools that the writers continue to develop, at the micro level of the characters and symbols to the macro level of narrative structure.
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island