Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fate vs. Free Will

Hello my dear friends -

I spent the one-year anniversary of my trip to Oahu for LOST's Season Six Sunset on the Beach premiere in another sunny, warm place: Miami. I was there to support my friend Miss M, who ran the ING Half-Marathon. Longtime LLL readers might remember Miss M from some of my earliest posts, as she was who I'd stay with in NYC when I was working for The Man and out east every other week. In particular, she was the one whose DVR -- ones of the nights I was crashing at her place -- neglected to tape the Season One episode where Boone died/Aaron was born, and she subsequently feared for her life. Needless to say, time heals all wounds and we're still friends.

On my flight back to Chicago, I had a great time reminiscing about this:

Only to be met with this upon my return:

The Island couldn't have felt further away.

Then I struggled with what to write about for my first true post-LOST LLL entry. There were so many great ideas mentioned in my call for submissions last month; I didn't know how to narrow them down. Well, actually, there were a couple of topics I took off the table immediately: anything having solely to do with Season Six or The End. I will certainly write about the last season and the series finale again at some point, but my Mother of All Posts took care of the vast majority of thoughts I have on those subjects for now.

It ended up being a few coming-soon movies that inspired this post: The Adjustment Bureau (out March 4) and Source Code (out April 1), as well as a comment from LLL reader "Ms." who suggested that it would be fun to revisit some of the earliest mysteries of the series. As you might remember, for the past three years (and because of this little ol' blog) I've been a film critic for redbox. While I'm not allowed to publicly give my opinion on any film before it's out (Damon Lindelof can, though), I will say that both TAB and SC revolve heavily around one of LOST's central themes: Fate vs. Free Will. The Adjustment Bureau even throws in a third element, Chance. TAB 's about a couple who wants to be together but is informed by mysterious bowler-hat-wearing dudes that their relationship is "not part of The Plan." Source Code follows an agent who keeps reliving eight disastrous minutes over and over... until he tries to change what happens (despite being warned that doing so is impossible). Extremely LOST-ish, yes?

These movies got me thinking (again) about what I still consider to be some of the most important questions our favorite TV show asked: Are our paths in life predetermined? Can you control your own destiny? How much of the future is already set in stone by a higher power?

Ready? Let's discuss. I'll start by saying that I don't think there are straight-up black-and-white answers to the questions above, nor do I think LOST's creative team was intentionally trying to take one side over the other. But I'll offer up my thoughts anyway. To get things going, I want to revisit the first season's finale (Exodus, Part 2) -- and specifically one of my favorite scenes of all time:

LOCKE: ...Do you really think all this is an accident -- that we, a group of strangers survived, many of us with just superficial injuries? Do you think we crashed on this place by coincidence -- especially, this place? We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason, all of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason.

JACK: Brought here? And who brought us here, John?

LOCKE: The Island. The Island brought us here. This is no ordinary place, you've seen that, I know you have. But the Island chose you, too, Jack. It's destiny.

[And then a few lines later...]

JACK: I don't believe in destiny.

LOCKE: Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet.


So now that it's all said and done, what do we think? Were the 815ers destined to crash on the Island?

If I had to give a short answer, it would be "Yes." But of course a short answer doesn't do this monumental question justice -- it's waaaay more complicated than a simple one-word response.

Before I write anything else, let me admit that "The 815ers were meant to crash" is one of those things I just like to believe and don't necessarily have a 100% airtight case for. Since I'm assuming you'd appreciate it if I at least attempted to back up my stance, however... what follows is my reasoning.

Remember when we found out that Jacob had that crazy Wheel of Fortune thingy in the lighthouse, along with a magic mirror that helped him keep track of all of the Candidates' lives in the off-Island world? Allow me to suggest that it was The Island directing Jacob on who to watch in the first place. The Island knew who could fill each critical role that would result in triumph over the MIB. Jacob tried to carry out The Island's needs... much like Richard tried to carry out Jacob's orders over the course of time.

How exactly did Jacob understand what (and who) The Island wanted? That knowledge was part of what came along with drinking the enchanted dirty water his mom gave him when she passed on the proverbial torch. (Jacob transferred this same power to Jack... who handed it over to Hurley.)

At all costs, The Island needed its Light to keep burning. I always interpreted The Light as a representation of everything that is good in the world -- knowledge, love, friendship, empathy, truth, etc. Without the Light, the Island -- and, in turn, the world -- could be destroyed, be it by the MIB or other forces/people who might not have even truly comprehended what they'd stumbled upon (Widmore, anyone?). When Jack went into the cave to "reboot" everything after the MIB was defeated, we saw the skeletons of several others -- hinting that this good vs. evil battle had been repeated over and over again for a long, long time. Which, to me, means that the Island had been summoning certain "special" people to help protect the Light for centuries.

That brings us to the matter of Fate vs. Free Will. Did any of the 815ers -- or any other character on the Island, for that matter -- ever have a chance of altering his or her destiny? Was their main purpose in life to play the role they played to keep the Island safe? The Jughead experiment would lead us to believe so. A ton of LOST fans (myself included) had assumed that Faraday's plan might have made it possible for the 815 survivors and their friends to change the past -- to skip going to the Island all together. To be sure, most of us hoped that the first five seasons wouldn't be totally erased... we figured that there could be some sort of space-time shift to allow a new present/future course for our beloved characters that would still keep some of their Island experiences intact. But that didn't happen. "Whatever happened, happened" was reinforced when the Jughead explosion failed to reset the timeline... but should we interpret this to mean "You can't escape your destiny? Free will is a farce!"

I'm not so sure. I choose to believe that the overall universe served up multiple paths for each of the characters, and they just so happened to make choices that -- in the end -- aligned with saving the Island (and mankind, let's not forget). Not everything was predetermined to work out this way. I mean, consider the end of Season Three -- if Jack had listened to Locke and simply hadn't made that call to the freighter, it's possible that everything would have resolved itself with much less bloodshed and lives lost. The counter-argument, of course, is that at that point Jack wasn't ready to take over the role of Island Protector from Jacob, so in order to fulfill his true ultimate destiny, he had to leave the Island and then eventually convince himself of the need to -- say it with me now -- "GO BACK!!!!"

You can apply this same logic to almost (key word) any character's story arc. Character A needed to realize X on his/her own in order to eventually do Y and Z... which led to Character B doing this and that... which averted the Island's destruction. The web of characters needing each other to achieve their ultimate destinies is extremely complex, but I'm sure at least one mega-nerd has it mapped out somewhere online. While I don't think I'll ever be able to take on such a huge task, I do foresee revisiting this idea of the connections between characters -- and the domino effect of their individual actions -- that resulted in saving the Island.

Here's just one teeny idea along these lines that struck me the other day: Since Christian/Zombie Dad ended up playing such a critical role in helping Jack to "let go and move on" in the finale (and was most likely the reason why Jack was always trying to "fix" things in the first place... culminating in fixing the Island), it could be argued that back in the day when Jack was just a little kid and Christian developed his problem with the drinky-drink, fate intervened and led Christian to have an affair with an Australian woman... who ended up getting pregnant (with Claire)... eventually leading Christian back to Australia to try and patch up the situation after he'd been stripped of his medical license in the US. And then, as we all know, he ended up dying in Australia... which is why Jack went there... only to attempt to return to LA on Flight 815.

Did the fact that Jack's destiny was to save the Island mean that his father's life was also impacted in order to lead Jack down the necessary path?

Deep thoughts, people! Deep, deep thoughts.

I want to introduce one other discussion topic into the mix before I wrap up, and it's about the character I consider to be the biggest glaring exception to the "Destined to be on the Island" theory: Hurley. We all know that Hurley served as the Island Protector for several years with Ben as his right-hand man, and that Hurley most likely improved on (and/or completely tossed out) Jacob's "rules." This revelation gave me a great deal of comfort because Hurley was one of the only characters who had a family back in the real world who he was close to. I couldn't bear the thought of him never being able to see his parents again because of his new Island role... and so I choose to build upon "The New Man in Charge" epilogue by assuming that while Hurley was in California picking up Walt, he also dropped in on his mom and dad. Yay! Smiles all around.

My issue lies with the fact that Hurley was one of the only characters that fate seemed to be trying to STOP from boarding Oceanic 815 in the first place... yet he ended up being the Island Protector. How does that work? How does that fit in with the Destiny argument?

Remember everything that went wrong when Hurley was trying to get to the airport? His alarm clock broke, he just missed the hotel elevator, his tire went flat, he went to the wrong terminal, etc., etc.? It was like he was not meant to get on Oceanic 815. Which is even more interesting when you consider that Hurley was one of the only characters (perhaps THE only character) who went to Australia in order to figure out a mystery that ended up carrying over to The Island -- the numbers. I also believe he was the only character (I know you'll correct me if my memory has failed!) who was desperate to get on that particular flight -- he'd wanted to make it home in time for his mom's birthday. I don't think any other character would've freaked out if they'd been bumped or otherwise had to take another flight -- in fact, several characters' tickets were arranged by another party (strengthening the Destiny arguments for each of them).

So what do you make of all of the trouble Hurley had in his attempt to be a passenger on Flight 815? Is his story a case for Free Will? Or was it really his destiny to be on the flight and all of the bizarre stuff that happened to him was just bad luck (ironic, considering it's Hurley...)?

I'm going to choose to end this post here in order to actually get it published, because it's already a few weeks later than I'd hoped. But I can't wait to hear everyone's thoughts on the Free Will vs. Fate debate. Please continue to leave other Mailbag topic ideas in the comments, too... I never can tell exactly what will inspire a post, so the more suggestions, the better. I'm figuring I'll be back with the next post by the end of March.


  • My dear friend and fellow blogger JOpinionated is holding the Coolest. LOST Giveaway. Ever... all in support of a worthy cause that's close to her heart. The details are here, and the deadline to enter is March 1. We've talked a lot about Oceanic Flight 815 in this post -- wouldn't it be cool to OWN A PIECE OF IT? Signed by Jorge "Hurley" Garcia, to boot???
  • Did you hear that Michael "Ben" Emerson is going to star in one of LOST creator J.J. Abrams' new shows? And Jorge's in another?
  • Did you hear that the TV series Emerson and Terry "Locke" O'Quinn were supposed to co-star in has now been delayed? (BOO HISS.)
  • Speaking of Locke, I have to share a short and funny story. A fellow name GH, who wanted to surprise his wife LH -- a longtime LLL fan who was planning to read my book -- with with a personalized bookplate from me, had this to say when he sent in his email request, "Don't want to tell you what you can't do by saying what to write... so I'll leave that up to you." Locke would approve.
  • And finally, I feel the need to point this out because it didn't hit me until months after I'd seen the Academy Award-nominated film Winter's Bone: The guy who plays the strung-out uncle is Lennon -- Dogen's little friend from the Temple in Season Six (real name: John Hawkes). WHAT?!?! He looks totally different in the movie. But congrats to him, because he's been nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Hope you enjoyed the first of my post-LOST ramblings! And here's a special shout-out to LLL reader PN from Helsinki -- my publisher forwarded me your handwritten note -- loved it. Many thanks!

Until next time,
- e


Anna said...

I love what you wrote about Jack/Christian and also Hurley---differences in what their separate "fates" held for them . . . and yes, how interesting it was that Hurley had to overcome the most in order to get on board. I always thought of it as just kind of proving what a good, loving son he was, in spite of his parents being flawed and obviously not perfect --Hurley always was so tender and respectful to everyone (which completely validates Ben's pep-talk after Hurley becomes New Man in Charge (do what you do best, take care of people). Hurley was probably the most considerate one on the island--
1. giving Claire an extra meal on the first night
2. making the golf course because people were stressed out
3. telling the tv crew (after winning the lottery) how his grandpa was finally going to get to take a vacation after working 3 jobs forever
4. loyally sticking up for Charlie after his death, and so on.

Hurley cares about people; it's part of his innocence and goodness, what made him HIM. I think he was always meant to get to the island because of this, *caring* so much about his mother's birthday; I dare say Jacob or the island would have counted on it as such a person would be the ideal protector after Jack did what he needed to do. . .

bill said...

Two thoughts, Erica:

1.) There may be a way to reconcile the fate vs. free will debate. Let's look at it this way: Fate (or God, or the Island)
does indeed predestine people. However, He/She/It doesn't look for specific people, but rather for specific TYPES of people, to bequeath a particular life path to.

And the "type" of person we become is determined by us. Our freely chosen actions make us who we are, either attracting or repelling the attention of whatever Force is out there.
Hence our free choices determine which pathway Fate chooses for us.

2.) Re: Hurley, one thing I noted is how his becoming the Island's protector fit in perfectly with the overall theme of the show, which IMO was sacrifice. Look at it this way: nobody got what they wanted, not in this life anyway. For example, Locke, who desperately wanted Jacob's job, not only didn't get it, He was used by it's greatest enemy.
Conversely, Hurley, who specifically said he did not want the job, ended up with it.

One question the show explored was the price that we must pay as individuals if we want to be heroes, to make a difference. Those poor souls literally gave up everything precious to them in life. Is that the cost every aspiring hero must ultimately pay?

nik said...

Jack was also desperate to get on the plane. Locke was a bit annoyed when he thought he'd have to get another flight as well!

I think the reason Hurley went through all that he did with running late for the flight was to cement his feelings that he was cursed. It must be really annoying to think that you tried so hard to catch a flight only for it to end up crashing! And I think that this contributed to the turnaround in Hurley's character that we start to see when he mends the campervan: taking note of what makes him lucky rather than thinking he's cursed.

As for him becoming the Island's protector I agree that it's inherent in Hurley to make people feel better, safer, happier. When he built the golf course Jack said (paraphrasing) "I haven't eaten, haven't slept, because I've wanted people to feel safe. Hurley builds a golf course, everybody feels safe". And that's it really. Jack is great at saving people, whereas Hurley is great at making people feel safe. Once Jack had 'saved' the Island his ability was no longer needed.

JS said...

excellent topic.

Perhaps Hurley had to make the choice to get on board, and later, Jacob gave him the choice to come back, because he was ultimately destined to be the island's protector. Jacob had to manipulate everyone else into making the choice to come back, but Hurley was the only one who was asked to come back, if he wanted to.

I believe we have many, many hints that Hurley was "special" in that he had a connection to the island that was clear from very early on, and because he was the only one who (was allowed to) independently decided to come back.

Unknown said...

Was it really "fate" trying to stop Hurley from getting on the plane? Perhaps because Hurley was so special, and The Island was calling him so strongly, the opposite force (evil/darkness/MIB?) was working extra hard to keep him away. Hence the alarm clock, the car breaking down, his dad coming back, etc.

And Hurley was not the only one who faced roadblocks in coming to The Island. Remember that Sayid was booked for another flight, but switched to 815 at the last minute. Same goes for Kate, and Claire, and Sawyer . . . With all of them it seemed a force was pulling them in two directions, but the pull from The Island was stronger. I imagine or believe that's because the forces of goodness/light are stronger than the opposing force.

I'm with you Erica, on imaging the different kind of leader that Hurley became. I doubt he was popping back and forth all the time . . . The Island was pretty demanding, but I imagine that he did visits his folks at least a few times, and I've always liked to imagine that he came back to tell Kate about Jack, knowing that if he didn't she'd try to come back (you know Kate, she can't live with anyone getting left behind).

Marc said...

Hey E,

Not to nitpick or anything and maybe my memory is a little off here, but didn't all the delays that Hurley faced pre-airport force him to miss his original flight, which pushed him on to 815 in the first place. That might mean that fate did intervine to get Hurley on the flight to become island protector. I recall him watching his plane fly over his head from where he was with the flat tire then he runs in the airport talks to the bitchy oceanic lady who books him two seats on the flight and says something like oh dear you might miss this flight too its in the international terminal across the airport. Then he has to run to catch it. What do you think? If you feel like revisiting the scene and letting me know I would love to see if i remember correctly or not.


Erika (aka "e") said...

Marc -

Nope, Hurley always had a ticket for 815. There was no flight he missed.

- e

GARRYUK said...

Great great topic!

I do not think it was entirely fate, I think there is a bit of both playing out here.

That is what makes the show so fantastic. We couldn't be told all the mysteries of the island upfront because we wouldn't believe them.

Just like Jacob couldn't just travel over to Jack (pre crash) and say to him, hey you are a potential candidate to save an island from a destructive cloud of smoke.

Over the hundreds of years since smokey was released, Jacob and MIB were trying everything they could to win.

Compare the Black Rock to 815? There were hundreds of people on the ship but only one man worth keeping alive
However Jacob got the equivalent of a lottery win when 815 crashed.

I reckon that any one of the names round the "wheel of fortune" could have ended up being saviour and protector, however the candidates were whittled down through free will choices to be Jack and Hurley.

This is only my opinion :-)

lorilooski said...

Does everyone get told, "It's time to let go," right before they die? I'm watching for the 5th or 6th time (I've lost count)and noticed John told Boone this after the "drug paste" experience and ep or 2 before he dies. That's my new assignment.


GARRY UK said...

Christian does tell Michael that it is time to go when the freighter blew up, but then again, Michael didn't "go" did he? He became a whisper on the Island.

notWalt said...

Here's my sad confession: I can't summon the energy to slog through the open issues or mysteries of Lost.

I loved the show and generally liked the End. I read dozens of the recaps and many of the discussions. And I was happy that e eventually posted her thoughts on the final episode.

I was even looking forward to this revived discussion.

But now that it's here, I am a bit surprised that I can't motivate myself to think deeply about the show. Maybe I am just burned out on Lost. Maybe I got enough answers and just need to let go. Maybe I'll get refreshed and want to dive back in.

After the end, I really thought that I would want to rewatch the entire series from the beginning. I haven't and I'm not sure when I will or even if I will. I hope I do.

I know that the Lost experience will likely never be matched for me. But for now, I'm just a bit saddened to have lost the passion (at least for now).

kelly said...

I too have to confess, I'm saving up to buy the box set, and sadly can't remember the details from early on that you have mentioned, e.

MarcG said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I'm glad you've started writing these. I only found your site mid-way through the last season. Unlike notWalt, I can't get enough LOST talk.

I don't have much to say, I'll probably just lurk. But thanks for putting the work in for us lurkers!

Unknown said...

I think you can be "meant" to do something, or "supposed" to be someone, and choose not to or be it. Because you have been mislead, because you made a choice, because evil forces worked against your full realisation.

That's why I like to think that Locke was supposed to be the real savior and leader. The task was just to difficult and overwhelming. So fate/destiny, which is different from fatalism, found another way by putting the weight on Jack's shoulder.

It seems that there is a goal set for certain persons, but that interactions and choices to go there are left undecided.

One could argue that Locke failed to grasp the difficulty of the task and was easy to manipulate. He chose not to go to the science camp, etc. ... His previous failures that prepared him for the leading role also made too eager and not careful enough.

I could be born to be a surgeon and save someone important for the whole world. But, out of laziness, I chose to do something else. Chances are, the friend I talked to about becoming a surgeon being too difficult will be the guy who saved the person.

Fate, juste like nature, always find a way.

GARRY UK said...

I've been logging on every day to read a new post, and it was worth it. Well said w Gyll.

What I've been trying to get my head round, and I hope this is still in realm of Fate vs Free Will, is the MIB's plan to get a dead Locke to come back to the island.

I understand, why Ben Killed Locke so he could go back to the island and become leader again, and the only way to do this was to try and recreate the same circumstances as the 815 flight. Whether this is true or not, who knows?

But Ben only new this because Eloise told him. How did MIB get Eloise to tell Ben this?

hatch-man said...

e - love your work. I think you got the Fate/Freewill idea just right. If the finale had focussed on these issues, instead of just saying "ho hum, we're done, trot out the Deus ex Machina and roll credits" I would have been very happy.

Hurley, now there's an interesting thought. Perhaps Fate gave a hand in overcoming the difficulties our pal Hugo faced in getting to the airport on time. maybe, oh this is delish, there is a J fate and a MIB fate, vying to get the folks there or not-there.

My brain reels.