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Lost In Portland

Editor's Note: We're pleased to welcome Living Lost author J. Wood, who will blog for each of the 16 weeks remaining in the third season of the hit TV series Lost.

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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

28 Responses to "Lost In Portland"

  1.  
    hanso February 8th, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Awesome!

  2.  
    Venkman February 8th, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    WOW!! I can't believe how thorough this is. Did you have your fingers dancing across the laptop keyboard while you watched, or what??

    Man, I thought *I* was clever thinking Aldo was spelled "Aldous," as in Brave New World. My one brilliant deduction and it turns out to be dead wrong...

  3.  
    Liz February 8th, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    I though I was the only one who thought he looked like Gene Wilder in that scene-I think it was those straps...

  4.  
    tara February 8th, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    Great post! Thank you so much! I can' wait to read next weeks post!

  5.  
    J Wood February 8th, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    Heh. I just jotted some notes on regular old paper during the show and typed up the post this morning. After writing the book, I guess I'm kind of primed to look for such things.

    And I have no idea if Michael Emerson was going for Wilder's creepy strangeness in last night's episode, but it sure works for Ben's character.

  6.  
    yakbeard February 9th, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Venkman - it's all theory at this point... you thoughts of aldo being "aldous" haven't been proven wrong at all... it's all speculation for now..

  7.  
    Bob February 9th, 2007 at 2:10 am

    Your book is a absolute must read for any "Lost" fan, especially the new viewers, your comments tonight are exemplary of the understanding and insight that can be gained to add to the enjoyment of viewing "Lost" Looking forward to your next post.

  8.  
    Dubie February 9th, 2007 at 8:15 am

    The time-bending angle is interesting. I have felt that Desmond was a crucial piece to understanding it all (I thought he was a ghost that only Hurley could see for a while). Next week should hopefully shed some more light on him! Great post!

  9.  
    Guy February 9th, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Does anyone know what happened to Rose and Bernard? Were they kicked off the show? You don't even see them in background shots anymore, and they were two of my favorites.

  10.  
    Guy February 9th, 2007 at 9:08 am

    What ever happened to Rose and Bernard?

  11.  
    JoshSpazJosh February 9th, 2007 at 11:04 am

    People were talking about the mirror-twinning concept at the beginning of "Further Instructions", which was, shot-by-shot, almost the same as the pilot. Locke took Jack's role, lying on the ground, and Desmond, running through the greenery, took on Vincent's role.

  12.  
    Vincent Madison February 9th, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Excellent analysis! This episode had more than the usual literary references / connections. I have believed that 'time' has been a main aspect of the show since Day 1.

    BTW - The actress who plays Rose has been ill, so that is one of the reasons they may not have been seen lately.

  13.  
    Memphish February 9th, 2007 at 11:23 am

    This is fantastic. Great work on all the allusions. I especially like the last paragraph with the Kate/Juliet Marshal/Ben mirroring. I hadn't thought of that. In the third paragraph, next to last sentence it says "Kate" when it should say "Juliet."

  14.  
    Sasha February 9th, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Venkman-

    As alot of the characters possess names that are symbolic on a multi-dimensional level, it is more than possible that Aldo also refers to the author of "Brave New World." In fact, it seems likely, given tnat the aim of both the Dharma initiative and Mittelos Bioscience is/was to create a better world/quality of life.

    Good call Venkman!

  15.  
    Eliza B February 9th, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Fantastic post! I'm very excited to hear your thoughts on the rest of the season and to read your book.

    Guy-Bernard and Rose are still around. L. Scott Caldwell, the actress who plays Rose was doing a play in Chigago at the time Lost was filming the first 6 episodes of season 3.

  16.  
    theOtherdave February 9th, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Rose and Bernard; weren't they caught partying up and getting into legal trouble during Lost hiatus and this is why we haven't seen them? If I remember, they both refused to surrender their Lost clothing and to leave the beach (the shoot location)-camping if you will, and carousing it up until the nearby neighbors had had enough.

  17.  
    theOtherdave February 9th, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    I only joke! The Rose and Bernard relationship is one of the best of the show. It would be nice if more of those two were shown soon.

  18.  
    Uncharted Island February 9th, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Fan chatter on LOST: “Not in Portland”

    If you’re not reading the LOST-TV forums, you’re missing out.  But I’d like to sum up some of the points that have been discussed in the new episode thread. It grows so quickly that it’s hard to keep track, and I find it much e...

  19.  
    Lostie February 9th, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Hi,
    Great analysis, specially the mirror concept for the Jack's surgery. I had missed that one :).

    These are the kind of things that make me love this show. Don't know what the people are moaning about since the start to this season.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  20.  
    hereosfan February 9th, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    hmmmm... well lost sucks, they have everyone pausing their tivos looking for clues like janet jackson fans after the superbowl. all of this micro management charaterzation will result in the xfiles syndrom, a zzzzzz ending, just wait. too bad hollywood being so damn greedy they squeek they will ruin a good show and will prove that its all about the dvd sales in the end.

  21.  
    steve b February 9th, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Ethan creeps me out!

  22.  
    Locke on wood February 10th, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Great Article.

    One of the things in the epidose that got me thinking about the "time/space" theme was how much older Ethan and Juliet seemed in the flashbacks than on the island. Could this be attributed to the properties of the island or something the Dharma initiative has up its collective sleeve? Can't wait to find out.

  23.  
    Brockman February 13th, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Here is an intriguing development on Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog:

    The good geeks at SciFi2U posted this video of last week's brainwashing/sleep deprivation scene....played backwards. In it, a woman's voice (possibly Ms. Klugh's? I want her back!) repeats "Only fools are enslaved by time and space."


    Plus, a little something about the possible meaning of that Brief History of Time reference...

  24.  
    l scott caldwell February 16th, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    i am not ill. thank God. and i am not in chicago doing a play.

  25.  
    Guy February 18th, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    That's good to hear. Will you be in upcoming shows of LOST? I love your work on the show.

  26.  
    J Wood February 18th, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    Is this L. Scott Caldwell? Thanks for dropping in. I think it's clear from the posts on here that there's a contingent waiting to find out more about Rose's place in the whole narrative. Most people probably know that Rose's story was pretty close to home for you, and we wish you well.

  27.  
    l scott caldwell March 3rd, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    yes.
    thanks for your words of encoragement.
    i have no idea how so much mis information gets out there.
    i know of no plan for rose's return at this point.
    strictly up to the producers.

  28.  
    Dr John Hong March 22nd, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Hey, I finally located your book on Amazon. When I typed in "Lost" your book isn't there. Maybe you can let Amazon.com know your book should be listed there. You did get 2 good reviews!
    I'm going to rent all the Lost episodes and then read your book as soon as possible. congrats!

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