Lost: Down the Hatch – The X Factor, Part 2

Chris Kirkman

Chris Kirkman

“LA X” Analysis …

Whew. I’ll freely admit that I was a bit worried going into this season; there was such a wide-open playing field that I wasn’t sure which path Lost might travel down. At the end of last season, we talked a bit about the different scenarios that might play out, and in last week’s podcast, I mention the possibility of a retcon or reboot of the story. I saw the series going down one of two fairly well-defined paths: the bomb doesn’t quite work and the survivors are stuck on the island but put back into their own time, or the bomb does work and everyone gets a do-over. Luckily for us the Lost creative team decided to give us a hybrid of both and, despite some extremely lazy writing on a couple of occasions, I think we’re in for quite a good ride.

So, as Sayid so eloquently put it: “What happened?” It all starts with a cat, really.

I’ll assume that just about everyone out there has heard of Schrödinger’s Cat by now, even if they don’t understand all the details involved. Allow me to explain, as best and simply as I can. In this classic thought experiment, a cat is placed in a box (a steel chamber, actually), along with a Geiger counter, a little bit of a radioactive substance and a counter tube hooked up to a small hammer, poised above a flask of poison (or acid, in Schrödinger’s original hypothesis). The device is protected against interference from the cat. If the radioactive substance experiences atomic decay, the Geiger counter would detect it, releasing the hammer, which smashes the poison container, thereby killing the cat. The radioactive substance is so small, though, that there may be decay within an hour, or there may be no decay whatsoever. Hence, as long as the cat is in the box and there is no outside indication of the fate of the cat, we don’t know whether the cat is dead or alive. It theoretically exists in two quantum states – both dead AND alive. And there you have the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox.

In the example above, it doesn’t matter if you actually care whether the subject is dead or alive, it’s just important to contemplate the possibilities of both.

In the classic view of the cat paradox, the exact outcome and quantum state depends on an observer. In the case of Schrödinger’s Cat, the cat is both alive AND dead at the same time because the box is shielded against quantum decoherence, and there is no observation to inform the world whether the cat is dead or alive. Only after the box is opened and the cat’s fate revealed does the exact quantum state of the cat materialize. Until then, the essential fate of the cat is both irrelevant and crucial. In essence, as long as the box is not opened and the certain properties of the natural world were to break down and cease or slow inside the box, the cat would exist in an immortal state indefinitely. This is known as the “Copenhagen interpretation” in quantum mechanics.

So, too, goes the Island. Because of the limited knowledge of its existence, the Island exists in a state of quasi-resistance to quantum decoherence. There is limited perception and, therefore, the possibility of multiple outcome states. In short, because of the massive power on the Island, the time dilation effect, the mutability of its quantum phase state, its age and the limited interaction that any survivors pulled there have had with the Island, it and the people entangled with it are akin to being inside their own little box, not knowing their own fates and possessing multiple outcomes. This relates and segues nicely into another viewpoint of the cat paradox known as the many-worlds interpretation. I touched on this and a related theory – that of the “multiple branching universe theory,” which I covered in the analysis for “He’s Our You” from last season (check it out, it’s worth it).

Remember this from last season? I love it when a plan comes together.

At any rate, many-worlds interpretation eliminates the need for an observer, as the cat retains its state of both alive AND dead after the box is opened. This is because when the possibility of two separate outcomes occurs, the quantum states of the cat diverge, each becoming separate and wholly real states. In other words, another branch streams off the “timeline” and forms a separate reality that is decoherent with the other state(s) of the cat.

The ultimate fate of the cat and, indeed, which fate will form the “base” timeline which is the cornerstone of a particular reality now depends wholly on an observer. Once the box is opened, and the state of the cat noted, the state of the cat and that of the observer are now entangled, bound to fully correspond with each other and only inhabiting one quantum state from that point forward. However, this does not mean that the alternate state of the cat does not still exist; it simply ceases to exist from the point of view of the observer. Other individuals that may be entangled with subset factored states that relate directly or tangentially to the cat may go onto experience a reality with one of the other states not enacted by the actions of the observer.

So … what does all this mean in the grand scope of Lost? Well, the introduction of Jughead into the equation, especially with the havoc it can wreak on the atomic level, affecting quantum states and interacting with the existing flux of the Island, means that we have our very own Schrödinger’s Cat paradox. Since we are mere external observers and not directly related to the events on the Island, we are able to see the divergence and decoherence of the two quantum states – or outcomes – of the actions of the survivors back in 1977. One world sees the return of the survivors to the Island’s “present,” and the other sees the survivors – both dead and alive – returned to the world to engage in another fated Oceanic flight, having never been to the Island and possessing no conscious knowledge of each other, or the past few years. If this theory is to hold any water, however, a dominant timeline will have to emerge. This can only take place with the assistance of an observer, someone closely entangled with the Island, and yet outside its current sphere of influence, free to pop in at a certain crucial moment, observe the true state of the Island and the survivors, and establish that state’s dominance.

What we need is some sort of …

X factor. Hello, Des. You’ll do nicely.

If this theory is to hold up, it simply must come down to one observer – or, at the very least, a small handful of observers. All signs right now point to our Variable, Desmond. Although he can’t be blamed for everything that’s happened on the Island, most of the quantum consequences that have occurred stem from two crucial decisions – his use of the fail-safe key that brought down flight 815, and his use of the key again to release the energy in the Swan at the end of season two. The energy release that brought down flight 815 created the first branch of the “paradox,” establishing an alternate reality. After the second release, Desmond established himself as the observer and created yet another quantum junction point.

These two events alone handily establish Desmond as the cornerstone of quantum and temporal shenanigans on the Island. However, it’s his appearance in the season premiere that firms up his place as the cornerstone of how things will actually turn out for the survivors. Remember last season I talked a bit about string theory, and entanglement? I’m not going to go into all that here, but you can get a quick summary in my analysis for “Because You Left” and “The Lie.” At any rate, the survivors are all connected through several quantum junctions, establishing multiple branching points every time they have interacted with each other prior to their time on the Island. Some survivors are more closely entangled than others; Desmond and Jack are two of those whose strings are very closely entangled. Because of this, Desmond’s appearance on the plane at the beginning of “LA X” – especially his appearance in the seat next to Jack – points to his significance in the role of things, and possibly as the Observer.

Also, Hobotrashcan reader zetts pointed out in the recap yesterday a very subtle – but very telling – bit of connectivity between Jack and Desmond. Remember when Jack went to the bathroom and found that bit of red on his neck that looked like a scar or scratch? Well, it was paint. In “Flashes Before Your Eyes” from season three when Desmond first leapt back to when he was trying to get a job from Charles Widmore, he woke up covered in paint. Later, while he was getting ready for his interview, Penny found some paint on his neck. Here, check it all out.

Jack, checking out the spot on his neck.

Desmond, back in “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” getting ready. See the fleck of paint there? I’ve circled it for you.

Penny even gets rid of it for him. She’s so sweet.

It may look as though Jack’s spot of paint is in a different spot than Desmond’s, but it’s not. Keep in mind that the image of Jack above is his mirror image. The paint is on the left side of both men’s necks.

So what does it all mean? Come on, I can’t answer everything. Along with the connectivity mentioned above, I’ve got to let all this roll around in my noggin for a bit. It wouldn’t hurt to go back and take a look at some Desmond-centric episodes, either. Regardless, I feel as though Desmond’s our Observer, or Variable, or, at the very least, the X factor that will help determine which outcome is “real” once the box is opened.

Hey, speaking of an X factor, I have one last thought before we move on. The title of the season premiere has stuck with me since it was announced during the summer. LA X. I figure most of you noticed that little space there between the LA and the X, and it got my mind turning during the hiatus. I think it had a lot to do with my speculation of alternate realities and the multiverse back in the podcast last week. At any rate, it’s clear from that title that the writers and producers are pointing at these “phase flashes” as a true alternate reality, branching from the point of the explosion of Jughead.

There are some great stories out there that you can check out that deal with the same sort of thing. Earth X from Marvel Comics takes a look at an alternate reality future for the Marvel Universe, as does the classic X-Men comics storyline “Days of Future Past.” That’s in issues 141 and 142, if you’re hunting – or buy the trade paperback. DC Comics has their share of alternate reality tales, particularly in their Elseworlds line of graphic novels. Kingdom Come is probably the best and most acclaimed of these alternate realities, and it, too, takes a look at a possible future for the DC world. Finally, in movies, check out Sliding Doors. Yes, it’s a bit of a chick flick, but it’s also a very entertaining and interesting look at the possibilities inherent in quantum decoherence in everyday life. Gwyneth Paltrow is the “cat” in the movie, by the way.

So who or what the hell are Jacob and Esau? We know that they have apparently been in some sort of struggle for quite some time, neither can defeat or kill the other without the help of someone from outside or off the Island, and Esau is a sentient blob of smoke that can assume multiple forms. Where does that leave us, besides feeling like we’re going crazy?

1. Time Travellers. We’ve seen a lot of temporal shenanigans in the past two seasons, so it seems to reason that these two could be from the future – or the past. In regards to the future, it could even be a possible future. Remember the branching timeline, just like in Back to the Future – you can return to a junction point where the timeline branches, and even ride out that branch of the timeline into the future, but it’s not possible to return to the future you came from unless you can somehow go back to that junction and change the outcome of events so that your future becomes the prevalent one. Okay, that was a really quick summary of just about everything I wrote about last season, so if you want it all in detail, go check it all out. When Esau said that he just wanted to go “home,” was he talking about his time – his reality?

2. Extra-dimensional beings. If we start talking about realities, we probably should just start talking about other dimensions, especially after that long bit of insanity at the start of this analysis. Jacob and Esau could be from another reality entirely, a phased branch that evolved from a certain quantum junction, and evolved in ways that may seem impossible from the viewpoint of this reality. Esau’s shapeshifting would be one of those evolutions, easily explainable by thinking of evolution in a multiverse; after all, when there may be an infinite amount of possible realities, there may very well be a place where a puff of smoke can turn into Terry O’Quinn. The Island may be a quantum gateway – a locational rift in the interdimensional wall. Remember when I talked about ley lines for two whole seasons? Well, some believe the major intersections of those ley lines represent places where the metaphysical walls between this reality and others are thinnest. The power that’s inherent within the Island may be a result of it lying on the strongest of those ley intersects – and may make it possible to step between worlds. Jacob and Esau could very well be from two completely separate realities. Hell, they could even be the same person from two separate realities. How’s that for making your brain turn sideways.

As a side note to the mention of the ley intersects and the dimensional wall, it is possible from a quantum theory point of view for a person, possibly even their consciousness, to exist in two states at once, just as I described above. In the instance of our Island, when Jughead was detonated it not only represented the crucial junction that separated the state of reality into independent quantum states, it could have also opened doors that allowed the survivors to leap through simultaneously. Just a thought. A crazy one.

3. Aliens. Yeah, Jacob and Esau could be aliens, crash landed on Earth, their ship lying there for so long that it formed the basis of the Island, which explains the power and the ability to jaunt around through time and space. Now, just as they were stranded on an “island,” others from this planet are now ironically drawn to this new Island and stranded. Also, they come from a planet of sentient smoke monsters. Hey, you come up with something better.

4. Gods. With all the talk of multiple dimensions, quantum phase states, aliens and shape-shifting smoke monsters, the fact that Jacob and Esau could be old gods isn’t really all that far-fetched. You just have to shift your thinking from the physical to the metaphysical, and perhaps that’s where Lost is headed, in the end. That’d be shooting the big ol’ bird to us science geeks, but it sure would make my paranormal side dance with happy glee.

We’ve been seeing these ash circles pop up from time to time on the Island, just as the one that Bram fashioned for himself in the statue when Ol’ Smokey was getting pugilistic on his mates.

I think I might have made mine bigger. Guess he brought the small emergency smoke monster kit on his utility belt.

For every knowledgeable imbiber there exists a certain magic elixir that produces unpredictable results when consumed or mixed. For me – and many others – that magic elixir is Jagermeister. I know I’m going to feel happy and relaxed when I drink bourbon and scotch, vodka is going to make me hyper then cranky, and tequila… well, let’s just not go there. Jagermeister, however, seems to open up a rift between worlds, allowing one of many of my multiple selves to leap through with unexpected consequences. So kick back, mix this up, and let your quantum state take care of itself.

The X Factor

  • 1/2 jigger of Jagermeister
  • 1/2 jigger of cinnamon schnapps
  • 1/2 jigger of Kahlua or Bailey’s
    (depending on your preference)
  • 1 splash cream or whole milk

Put everything in a shaker with ice, close up and shake well. Contemplate the quantum state of the drink at this point; it’s the last clear thought you’ll have. Strain into a tall shot glass or pour the whole thing, ice and all, into a highball glass. Repeat. Prepare to experience an alternate reality. Blame the drink in the morning when you wake up in another city.

The first time we encounter an ash circle was in “The Man Behind the Curtain” when Ben takes Locke to visit Jacob’s cabin. As they approach the cabin, Ben carefully steps over the ash that surrounds it. Later, Locke comes across the circle in “The Economist,” but the cabin was missing. In last season’s finale, Bram and Ilana come across Jacob’s abandoned cabin, but the ash circle there is now broken. And in this week’s premiere, we see the Temple dwellers break out the ash when they learn that Ol’ Smokey might be on the rampage. Lennon explains that the ash is there to keep “him” out.

The use of circles in spiritual and magic rituals has existed for thousands of years. Binding spells involving ash have been used in many wiccan and pagan practices for centuries. In demonology lore, a binding circle is created when an entity is summoned, to keep it inside the circle and protect the incanters from its power. Of course, on the Island, the circle is the opposite, keeping the power of the entity out of the interior of the circle. The real question lies not in the power of the circle, but in the content of the ash.

Could the ash be part of Jacob? It’s an assumption at this point, but Jacob and Esau could be the same, and if that’s the case Jacob should be able to shapeshift, as well. Could Jacob have provided a bit of his essence to infuse the ash with protection? The two beings are clearly able to withstand attacks from the other and need help to dispatch their counterparts. It seems clear that ash that may be from Jacob’s very form could repel Esau in the guise of Ol’ Smokey.

Or maybe it’s kryptonite. I’ll be interested to hear what you all think.

That about wraps it up for this week. I have many more thoughts rattling about, particularly in the details of Jacob’s cabin and the interactions between it and the survivors. Also, could Jacob shapeshift? If so, could it have been him appearing as Christian Shepard? Just as Esau has taken Locke’s form because he is deceased, so could Jacob have taken Christian’s form from the very beginning. It all seems to click.

Until next time, keep thinking those thoughts, and if you come up with any epiphanies tell me something good.


Chris Kirkman is a graphic designer/photographer/journalist/geek extraordinaire with way too many Bruce Campbell movies in his library. Michael Emerson, Lost’s Benjamin Linus, called Kirkman’s recaps “one of the smartest articles I’ve ever read about what goes on on our show.” Kirkman is still hoping that Lost will end when Bob Newhart wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette, complaining of a strange, strange dream. You can contact him at ckirkman@hobotrashcan.com.

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