"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

Lost Genres and Coincidences: Keys to What's Really Going On

-Written in the middle of Season 2, first posted near the end of Season 3, with updates through the finale of the series-

by Paul Levinson

We live in a golden age of genres. Crime, science fiction, romance in books. Much the same in movies, but add in comedy and drama. Television has all of the above, along with specialties like soap operas and hospital shows. Genres determine where books are shelved in bookstores, where and how wide movies open, at what times shows appear on television. Genres have rules which their plot lines must follow. Audiences expect them, and can become sorely disappointed when the rules are bent or broken. A mystery fan is likely to find no joy in the revelation that a murdered body in a room locked from the inside was in fact beamed in from outer space. Genres do not mix easily.

Yet Lost has become extraordinarily successful by mixing all kinds of genres, and breaking just about every rule and expectation.

To begin with, a castaway story is a great way to weave different genres into a narrative. A doctor, a con-man, a woman fleeing from the cops, a rock musician on the rocks. Each has a different back story. Chaucer made use of this in Canterbury Tales, and it has been a staple of story-telling ever since.

But Lost goes much further. Not only do the characters have different back stories, but the fundamental mechanisms and rules of these stories are very different. And in the most intriguing genre-blending of all, these back stories are becoming increasingly interrelated. Even though -- as the stories of people who presumably just happened to be seated together on a plane, as the stories of people who presumably first met each other as they boarded the fateful flight -- these back stories should have no connection at all.

A Fistful of Genres

Lost presents and develops for its own ends some of the classic genres of television:

The doc: The doctor TV-show more particularly - the brooding, handsome, dark-haired surgeon goes back at least as far as Ben Casey in the first half of the 1960s, and has continued more or less non-stop ever since. The surgeons in Grey's Anatomy are a current example. Jack could have easily stepped out of that show onto Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 until we learn that he had an earlier encounter in the stadium with Desmond of Dharma.

The con-man: Sawyer's not all that different from Maverick, though the late-1950s cardsharp was more of a gambler than an outright swindler, had a more obvious heart of gold, and none of Sawyer's rage. But the two have the same easy, irresistible charm, and look at the world in the same way: kids in the candy store of marks for the taking. Yeah, Sawyer's a classic con-man but what was he doing having a one-night stand with the woman who drew Hurley's lottery numbers? And what was Kate's mother doing serving coffee to Sawyer in that diner?

The Fugitive: Kate's of course our Richard Kimble, even though (so far) there is no one-armed man in Lost. But Kate's not guilty nonetheless, in any rational, decent court of opinion: the man she torched, who preyed on her mother and her, deserved to die. Her back story is one of the richest in the show - young love with a "Tell Laura I Love Her" tragic ending, abusive father, the law is after her. Kate's story could have been a great TV show, all on its own. But what's her loving stepfather doing back in Iraq at the end of the first Gulf War with Sayid?

Hey, hey, we're the Monkees: Well, Charlie and Driveshaft are not quite - they're more like Eddie and the Cruisers (movie not TV series) gone wrong - but his story still works in the genre of rock 'n' roll groups and their back stories on television, ranging from The Partridge Family on one end to, well, Driveshaft on Lost on the other. There was always more to these band stories than met the eye (and ear). The Monkees, the Partridge Family, even the cartoon Archies all had big hit records off of their shows, out in the real world, continuing a meta tradition, a breaking of the reality/fiction boundary, that went back to the 1950s with Ricky Nelson. "You All Everybody" has yet to make such an impact in the real world of music but it could, as far as I'm concerned. Like Kate's story, Charlie's could easily support its own series. On Lost, though, we find some disturbing details - such as, what was the number 815 doing as the copy machine model Charlie was trying to sell when the band was not playing?

The Lost omnibus has several other passengers whose back stories sit comfortably in classic TV genres, until we're shown some incredible, inexplicable intersection between their and some other character's life. Locke is Ironside, until he inexplicably recovers his legs after the crash. But that bit of magic, faith-healing, mind over matter - a trait shared by Walt, who sees a polar bear in a comic book before the bear makes its appearance on the island - is by no means the most incredible facet of Locke in Lost. In our world, people do occasionally stand up and walk again, for no clear medical reason, after being confined to a wheel chair. But nowhere in our world would Locke and Hurley end up having the same boss, in two unrelated businesses, and then end up on the same plane that crashed -- well, perhaps that one coincidence could have happened, but not on the plane that also carried Jack and Shannon, whose father Jack chose not to operate on, and instead saved Sarah, which meant death for Shannon's father.

What's really going on in Lost?

Continuum of Coincidence

Not all coincidences are the same. Let's see if we can find some categories of coincidence, or inexplicable intertwining of characters (and events) in Lost:

Barely if at all coincidence: Jack and Ana Lucia having a drink at the airport in Australia before the plane takes off is barely a coincidence at all. Neither, really, is Sawyer and Jack's father drinking together at a bar in Australia, though that's certainly more of an unusual coincidence than Jack and Ana Lucia. But in the context of Lost, Australia is just a bigger plane. Meetings of previously unconnected characters Down Under may be unlikely, but certainly not inexplicable, and nowhere close to impossible by any rational standards. These are interesting, important encounters, not mainsprings of the show.[*PS8]

Inexplicable, incredible coincidences of which the characters are unaware: Most of the extraordinarily unlikely encounters mentioned above fall into this category. Sayid meeting Kate's stepfather in Baghdad in the Gulf War. Kate's mother serving Sawyer coffee. Jack not operating on Shannon's father.[*PS6]

These coincidences have at least three things in common.

(1) There is no way, in any rational universe, they could have occurred. Certainly not all of them. This means that, if the flashbacked stories are truthful depictions of what actually happened (more on this later), they must provide a key to what is actually happening in Lost. A trite purgatory scenario - the characters all died in the plane crash (or in some other way, or other ways), and are now congregated in a place in which all time and place, all past, present, and future, is mixed into one - could certainly account for such coincidences. But I refuse to believe Lost would stoop to such a solution.

(2) The majority of these coincidences, at least so far, seem to have happened to Jack and Kate[*PS4] (individually, not together). On the one hand, they are in the running for the two most central characters on the show (certainly Kate is the leading woman), so it's not all that surprising that the majority of inexplicable intertwinings would happen to them. On the other hand these concentrations of coincidence may have some deeper, larger meaning.

(3) The characters on this level of coincidence are not aware they happened -- that is, Sawyer doesn't know he was served by Kate's mother, Jack doesn't know that the patient who was not the beneficiary of his medical expertise was Shannon's father, etc. This facet of these coincidences is a significant motivator or lack of motivator for the affected characters on the island. They do not know the depth of the paradox and affront to conventional reality in which they are embroiled. The Others, the monsters, the wild animals - to the extent they are not directly tied to the back story coincidences - do not hold a candle to the sheer, attractive insanity of the coincidences. And while all the characters on the island know about The Others and the monsters, very few know about the inexplicable encounters in their own previous lives.

Inexplicable, incredible coincidences of which the characters are indeed aware: I can think of only two on the show. (Sawyer realizing he had met Jack's father would be an example of a character being aware but of a minor, not a mind-bending, coincidence.)[*PS2] Hurley and the numbers, off and on the island, would be one. Jack and Desmond would be two. Let's look more carefully at each.

(1) Hurley's numbers: They brought Hurley incredible bad luck before he got to the island - they of course brought him the money that bought the ticket to the plane that crashed but that's just a conventional magic story (another TV chestnut, going back, in happier days, to Bewitched). Not conventional in the slightest is Hurley discovering these numbers on the hatch, inside of which they must be typed into a computer to keep the hatch, island, whatever from doing who-knows-what, if anything.[*PS7] So far, he has kept this awful knowledge to himself, presumably interpreting it as just a ratcheting up of the awful curse under which he has fallen. But this knowledge separates Hurley from the rest of the castaways, and must play a crucial role in the resolution of the story - not just Hurley's, everyone's.[*PS1]

(2) Jack and Desmond: Locke believes in the need to enter the numbers into the Dharma computer; Jack does not. This is likely meaningful, insofar as Jack knows something even more inexplicable than anyone else on the island about Dharma, seeing as how Jack had met Desmond on the steps of the stadium in one of Jack's back stories - in fact, in the same episode as Jack sees Desmond again in the hatch, and Kate and Locke meet Desmond presumably for the first time. This incident is significantly different from all the other coincidences in at least two additional ways. (a) Jack sees Desmond, in the present, on the island, after the two have met in Jack's back story. This is unlike, for example, Sayid, who, having met Kate on the island, could have been dreaming that he met her stepfather in Baghdad; or Jack, who having met Shannon on the island, could have been dreaming that he decided not to operate on her father. In other words, where these and the other back stories are vulnerable to being interpreted as dreams (leaving aside the question of how Sayid would have known what Kate's stepfather looked like - but he could have dreamed a younger version of Kate in the photograph Kate's stepfather had in his hand - or how Jack could have known what Shannon's father looked like), Jack's encounter with Desmond is not. It cannot be any kind of dream. How, after all, could anyone dream up a person, or a relation to a person, they have not yet met? It could only be some kind of crazy - and very meaningful to the story - premonition. A premonition in which we clearly see someone we have not yet met. (b) Jack recognizes Desmond in the hatch, and says "You!" It is not clear if Kate heard this; Locke did, asks Jack what is going on, and Jack says he doesn't want to talk about it. So apparently Jack has not yet told anyone about his earlier encounter in the stadium with Desmond.[*PS3] Just as Hurley has not confided in anyone about the full meaning - to the extent that he knows it - of the numbers. But, unlike Hurley and the numbers, Jack has shouted a very important clue, which Locke or even Kate could pick up on at any time. This puts this coincidence in a category of its own in unraveling the mystery of Lost.[*PS5]

The above three categories of coincidences in Lost are rough cuts. There are subtleties in some of the inexplicable intersections which fit into none of the categories. For example, in what we might call a reciprocal coincidence category, we have Sayid's face appearing on the television screen in Kate's stepfather's office when she is visiting him, years after the two met in Iraq with Kate's stepfather taking out Kate's photograph. These kinds of coincidences deepen the texture and meaning of the show. The incredible lattice they weave is the greatest genre of all. And yet...

Relying as the incredible coincidences do on the back stories of the characters, we have to consider one other possibility regarding Lost and its genres:

Are the Flashbacks Lies?

Alfred Hitchcock -- a master of mystery, usually explicable, sometimes not, if ever there was one -- remarked to Francois Truffaut in their famous 1966 interview book (Hitchcock, by Francois Truffaut): "I did one thing in a picture I never should have done; I put in a flashback that was a lie." Truffaut replies, "Yes, and the French critics were particularly critical of that."

Hitchcock is talking about his 1950 movie, Stage Fright, in which Jane Wyman plays a character who remembers a sequence of events in a flashback that is a fabrication. As Truffaut points out, she's not actually lying - the villain has actually lied to her, and she is remembering his lie, as if it were truth. But the effect on many audiences was the same: they felt they were being lied to, not by the bad guy, but by the guy who made the movie.

Hitchcock lamented, why can't we put a lie in a flashback? He certainly has a point. It's just narrative convention that says flashbacks are by and large recollections of what really happened to a character.

This convention has been stretched a few times since the 1950s, in movies like Fight Club, in which the lead character is deranged, or in any number of science fiction stories like Philip K. Dick's (who knows, maybe he was influenced in the 1950s by Stage Fright), in which the essence of the story is the manipulation of memories in ways of which their possessors are unaware.

This points, then, to a completely different kind of explanation for the mixing of genres and inexplicable coincidences in Lost. Both the genres and the coincidences are dependent upon the flashbacks. But what if the flashbacks are lies?

Any one of the characters could of course be lying to him or herself. Nothing even implausible about that. But interlocking flashbacks' reciprocal coincidences, like Sayid's and Kate's stepfather's, reduce the odds of people lying to themselves, as does the mere fact that so many characters are having implausible flashbacks which are lies. Unless something on the island is causing that to happen.

Dharma could certainly be the cause of that, in ways we cannot yet understand. Or perhaps the island itself - no purgatory, no island of lost dreams or souls, just a nasty meta-narrative island of lost truth in flashbacks.

In the end, even if Dharma or the island is causing the flashbacks to be fabricated, we are still left with the question of why they intersect in such bizarre ways. One answer to that is that the island may itself be a kind of novelist, a saucer on the water or embodied Chaucer of the Pacific, which not only causes the characters to fabricate their flashbacks, but weave them together in a way which makes one astonishingly intriguing story.

And this means that, whatever the ultimate explanation of genre blending and coincidence in Lost, it has achieved a level of story-telling like no other in television.


*PS 1: Libby's presence as a patient in Hurley's mental institution, revealed in the 4/5/06 episode, is an example of a coincidence of which Hurley might have been aware - he thinks Libby looks familiar when he first meets her on the island. This episode also adds fuel to the interpretation of the flashbacks as dreams or daydreams the characters are having on the island: the flashback of Libby in the institution appears in Hurley's story after the two have very significantly interacted on the island. Desmond's appearance in Jack's flashback before the two meet on the island thus remains unique, as of 4/5/06.  Note added April 15, 2010:  See also PS 12 below, and the Hurley-Libby intersection in Lost 6.12.

*PS 2: But Ana Lucia's brief unknowing encounter with Sawyer in the 5/3/06 episode as he was about to enter the bar in Australia where he would have a drink with Jack's father - not to mention Ana Lucia's long flashback encounter with Jack's father in that episode - would certainly be another example of a coincidence that defies any kind of rational explanation. Meanwhile, Ana Lucia's death in this episode, after she overcomes her cardinal flaw (a propensity to kill people who hurt her) is another piece of evidence in support of the unfortunate Purgatory explanation for everything that's going on in Lost.  Note added May 22, 2007:  Eko in Season 2 is of course aware of his brother Yemi having crashed earlier on the island - this would be an example of an inexplicable coincidence (Eko's crashing on the same remote island as did his brother) of which one of the parties, Eko, is all too aware.

*PS 3: Desmond figures in two other inexplicable coincidences - unlikely to the point of being all but impossible - in the superb finale to Season 2 on 5/24/06. (a) Libby gives Desmond the boat he will use to sail around the world. (b) Kelvin - the person Desmond takes over from in the hatch - turns out to be none than the CIA guy who recruited Sayid back in Iraq in the first Gulf War. And, actually, there may be a third coincidence involving Desmond, which could be significant: (c) How did Desmond's former girlfriend know that magnetic disturbances play a significant role on the island? Presumably, she was just searching for him, after he had failed to return from his around-the-world race. Is her rich father, whose company sponsored the race, also involved in Dharma? (Maybe this facet will turn out not to be a coincidence at all, in the third season.)

*PS 4: As of April 25, 2007: Jack also is crucial to the major inexplicable coincidence in the flashbacks in the 3rd season, so far: Jack's father is Claire's father. Kate figures in another, less crucial coincidence: she is helped by a woman whom Saywer swindled. (Locke's father showing up in the island could be another coincidence, but that remains to be seen.) And on May 2, 2007: Locke's father is indeed the centerpiece of what may be the crucial coincidence of all: he is also the con-man responsible for the deaths of Sawyer's parents - the guy Sawyer was looking to kill in Australia. And on May 16, 2007: Charlie saves Sayid's true love Nadia back in England, long before the 815 Flight, in the "Greatest Hits" epusode. (Nadia also figures in an inexplicable coincidence with Locke in an earlier episode.) And added on May 23, 2007: The Season 3 finale brilliantly pivoted from flashbacks to flashforwards - as I predicted last week. Will be interesting to see how the inexplicable coincidences play out in the stories of some of the characters after they leave the island (and try to rescue those who are still there)...

*PS 5: I believe the 5th episode of the 4th season - which aired in the U.S. on 28 February 2008 - provided an explanation for the Desmond-Jack meeting on the steps, prior to Jack crashing on the island. Desmond gets the power of time travel - or, his consciousness can travel to the past and the future - after he goes through an electromagnetic field in a helicopter leaving the island. Although Jack has no role in this part of the episode, clearly Desmond's power to communicate between future and past versions of himself could have given him knowledge of Jack, before either got to the island, which led Desmond to seek out Jack on the steps in the 1st episode of the 2nd season. Whether it explains the other inexplicable coincidences in the flashbacks remains to be seen - at least one of the characters in the flashback would need to have Desmond's powers - but that's certainly possible, given that these powers stem, to some extent, from travel to and from the island. See Lost 4.5: Desmond 1 and Desmond 2 for more...

*PS 6: Episode 11 of Season 4 - aired in the U.S. on 8 May 2008 - called our attention to a coincidence which had already been established in the first Ben flashback episode (Episode 20 of Season 3): Ben's and Locke's mothers have the same name, Emily. As of Episode 11, Season 4 on the island, neither man seems aware of this coincidence. I would say it's certainly not as extraordinary as some of the other coincidences - such as Jack and Desmond meeting on the steps of the stadium - but it does raise some interesting possibilities. Indeed, the appearance of Richard Alpbert as Locke's possible father in this episode made me think that Richard could be Locke's father as well, and the two Emilys are the same. (I know they were played by different actresses, and that Ben's mother died after Ben was born and Locke's mother was alive when Locke was an adult.... But with the immortal Richard involved, who knows what's possible. At very least, he might have some reason for impregnating women named Emily - or, even less extraordinary, for keeping an eye on women named Emily who bear sons who become leaders on the island, and develop some strange powers.)

*PS 7: The 12th episode of the 4th Season - first broadcast in the U.S. on 15 May 2008 - brought us Hurley's numbers again, this time on the odometer of the red car his father repaired for him, in the flashforward back in civilization. So the numbers are not only all over the island, in the signal that brought Rousseau there (and Hurley, indirectly, by winning him the lottery after they were conveyed to him indirectly by someone who heard them in the transmission), but the numbers continue to play to Hurley in the flashforwards. I was glad to see that. My guess is we'll continue to be teased by the numbers, until their supremely inexplicable multiple appearances are explained in the end.

*PS 8: As an example of an even less unusual coincidence that is just a nice coincidence, with likely no deeper explanatory power: In the 1st episode of Season 5 - first broadcast in the U.S. on 21 January 2009 - we see Kate's car (with Aaron) entering a parking lot just as Hurley's car (with Sayed) is leaving. Since we already know that all four of these characters are in L.A. at this time, there is nothing inexplicable or extraordinary about this scene.

*PS 9: Jacob's visits to Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Jack, Sun & Jin, Sayid, Hurley in the two-hour finale (Episodes 16 & 17) of Season 5 (May 13, 2009 in the U.S.) provides a means by which these characters were connected to one another prior to their boarding Flight 815, and thus a possible explanation for the inexplicable coincidences: Jacob could have set them in motion.

*PS 10:  Ethan showing up as Claire's doctor in the Los Angeles (no plane crash) 2007 hospital is an example of the first prominent inexplicable coincidence in Season 6.  In this case, some difference between the Los Angeles and island realities could explain Ethan's presence in Los Angeles, but what is the likelihood that he would be Claire's doctor?  See Lost 6.3: Kate and Claire, Tenacious Details, and Dr. Arzt's Arse for more.

*PS 11:  Season 6 teems with more inexplicable intersections in alternate reality Los Angeles:  In 6.4, Locke meets Hurley in a parking lot; Hurley gives Lock a job at a temp agency owned by Hurley; where Locke's boss is Rose; Locke gets a job as a substitute teacher in a high school, where Ben is a history teacher; see Lost 6.4: Better LA, Wilder Island, Some Partial at Last for more.  In 6.5, Jack runs into Dogen at a music competition; see Lost 6.5: Jack's Family and Prester John's Speculum for more.  In 6.6, Sayid and Jack pass each other in a hospital corridor with neither being aware of the other (not such an inexplicable intersection, since Sayid is in the hospital to see his brother, hurt by loan sharks); Sayid later confronts and kills the loan shark enforcer, who is Keamy (pursuing his punishing trade across two realities, and a pretty strong coincidence); and Sayid discovers that Keamy had a prisoner, Jin (who, after all, in our original reality, was an enforcer his father-in-law's syndicate); see Lost 6.6: Sayid the Assassin in Both Realities for more.  In 6.7, Ben the history teacher not only intersects again with Locke the substitute, but is a colleague of Dr. Arzst (a science teacher), and a faculty adviser for Alex Rousseau;  see Lost 6.7: A Better Ben in Both Realities for more.  In 6.8, Sawyer using his name James Ford as a cop is partnered with Miles, has a one-night stand with Charlotte, encounters Charlie's brother trying to bail Charlie out of jail, and runs into Kate in an alley; see Lost 6:8: The Third Team for more.  In 6.10, Mikhail makes an appearance as an associate of the nefarious Keamy in LA; see Lost 6.10: Cloudy Sun for more.

*PS 12:  The intersections in alternate LA begin to become so prominent and significant to the unfolding story in  6.11 that they deserve their own footnote:  In 6.11, we're treated to a veritable feast of intersections, as Desmond runs into Hurley (at the airport), Claire (airport), Minkowski (airport), Widmore (whom Desmond works for, as Widmore's right-hand man), Charlie, Jack, Eloise (who is Widmore's wife), Daniel, and (of course) Penny;  and these intersections are at last more than hit-and-run pieces of amazement - they're finally beginning to propel the central story, which after 6.11 entails Desmond getting each of the characters in alternate-LA reality to recall the lives of their original selves on the island.  I see this as part of the merging or reunification of the two realities; see Lost 6.11: Reunion of Two Realities Begins.   In 6.12,  Desmond goes to see Hurley, to encourage Hurley to see Libby again (Hurley and Libby had met earlier in a restaurant); Desmond later drives up to Ben and Locke's school, and deliberately drives into Locke in his wheelchair; we also see Marvin Candle introducing Hurley at an awards ceremony.   The Libby-Hurley intersection in 6.12 is the first to explicitly connect to one of the great inexplicable coincidences in flashbacks in earlier seasons - Hurley and Libby in a mental institution, prior to their meeting on the island, in Season 2 - and suggests that this inexplicable coincidence in the flashback, and perhaps all of the others, relate to the parallel Los Angeles/island realities of Season 6.   Dr. Brooks appears in both Season 2 and 6 episodes with Hurley and Libby, as the doctor from the mental institution in which Hurley and Libby are variously patients.   See Lost 6.12:  Libby and Hurley and Cross-Reality Communication for more; see also PS 1 above.   In 6.13, Sun (shot several episodes ago) recognizes Locke (hit by Desmond in 6.12) as they're brought into the hospital on stretchers at the same time.   The intensity of the experience makes Sun recall her knowing Locke from her life in island reality.   Also in better alternate LA reality, officer Sawyer is enjoying his questioning of Kate.  He and partner Miles go off to nab Sayid - for the Keamy et al shootings - which they do.  Sayid says goodbye to Nadja.   Meanwhile, Des intercepts Claire before she goes to the adoption agency, and steers her to his lawyer's office - the lawyer being Elana.   Turns out this is actually a meeting to read Christian's will, so Jack shows up, too.  But he's called away, back to the hospital, to operate on Locke, the sight of whom may or may not put Jack back in touch with his island reality.  So we have one, maybe two, alternate LA intersections in 6.13 triggering recollections of the island reality; see Lost 6.13: Make Up, Break  Up, Everything Is Shake-up for more.   In 6.14, our people in better alternate LA reality begin to realize the oddity of running into people who were on the 815 flight.  Bernard, who intersects with Jack, says it's "pretty weird,"  and Jack's beginning to wonder about this, too.   Jack also sees Anthony Cooper (in bad shape, but still better than dead), Helen, and Claire.   And Jack brings Claire a music box that their father Christian left for her, and it plays "Catch a Falling Star" - Claire on the island was singing Catch a Falling Star earlier this season, so this would be a prime example of "leakage" between island and LA realities; see Lost 6.14: Jack's Tears for more.   The intersections in 6.16 mostly revolve around Ben:  he  gets beaten by Desmond, who may want to hit and run Locke in the wheelchair again, all for the purpose of putting these alternate reality people into touch with their true (in my view) island selves.  Then Alex and mother Danielle invite better Ben to dinner, where Danielle tells Ben that Alex almost looks at Ben as a father.  Elsewhere in better LA, Jack has a cut on his neck, an expression of the two realities coming together.   He intersects with Claire, Locke - and tells him "I think you're mistaking coincidence for fate," when Locke brings their intersection on the plane and now in LA to Jack's attention.  But Locke is right.  And with Des as the continuing spark plug of the intersections, we have Desmond in jail with Kate and Sayid, with Sawyer and Miles on hand as cops.  Kate almost sweet talks Sawyer into letting her go, but it's not necessary because Des has bribed Ana Lucia (with Hurley's money) to spring Kate and Sayid, and they all drive away in two cars (not Ana Lucia) as per Desmond's plan; see Penultimate Lost:  Coincidence for Fate for more.

*PS 13:  And in the series finale:  Most of our major characters come together in the church at the end - Sayid and Shannon, Sawyer and Juliet, Hurley and Libby, Desmond and Penny, Locke, Sun and Jin, Charlie and Claire, Rose and Bernard, Jack and Kate, Christian - for these are the people who have been most important to Jack's life on the island.  Alternate LA is revealed as a purgatory, and the church congregation is ready for the next step.   In view of this, the inexplicable coincidences in the flashbacks can now be seen as in some sense connected to Jack's take on his life.  They provided keys to understanding what was really going on in Lost, after all - even though the meaning of these keys did not become clearly visible until the very end.  Q.E.D.   See The End of Lost for more.

Useful links:

The End of Lost:  Preliminary Thoughts: Jack's Story
The End of Lost 2: Further Thoughts: Missed Opportunities

Preliminary Predictions for Lost Finale

also: Lost New Questions (arising from the Season 3 finale): 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's in the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Kate Waiting For? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

and Lost and Alias: Now Something Else in Common

reviews of some of the Spring 2007 (3rd season, 2nd part) episodes of Lost: Lost ... Recovering ... Desmond Deja Vu ... Lost: Lost ... Lost ... finding itself ... Jack and Locke reverse roles ... Canterbury, Decameron Tale Tonight ... Kate, black smoke, Juliet ... Lost: Back in Business and Balance ... The Woman Who Fell from the Sky ... Words from the Woman Who Fell ... Coincidence is King ... Dharma, Hostiles, and Survivors ... Charlie, Underwater Babes, and Finale Predictions! ... Season 3 Finale: Flashforwards...

reviews of 4th season: 1. Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast 4.1 ... 4.2: Five Flashbacks and Three Rational Explanations ... 4.3: Thirty Minutes and Big Ben ... 4.4: Kate and ... ... 4.5 Desmond 1 and Desmond 2 ... 4.6 The True Nature of Ben ... 4.7 Flash Both Ways ... 4.8 Michael and Alex ... 4.9 Daughters, Rules, and Some Truth about Ben ... 4.10 Almost a Dream Come True ... 4.11 Unlocking Locke ... 4.12 Hurley's Numbers on the Dashboard ... Lost Season 4 Finale: Six or More Thoughts Plus One


2. More Thoughts On Lost 4.1: Those Who Went with Hurley and Those Who Stayed with Jack and Two More Points about Lost 4.1

reviews of 5th Season: Lost Returns in 5 Dimensions and 5.3: The Loops, The Bomb ... 5.4: A Saving Skip Back in Time ... 5.5 Two Time Loops and Mind Benders ... 5.6 A Lot of Questions ... 5.7 Bentham and Ben ... 5.8 True Love Ways ... 5.9 Two Times and a Baby ... 5.10 The Impossible Cannot Happen ... 5.11 Clockwork Perfect Time Travel ... 5.12: Ben v. Charles, and Locke' Slave ... 5.13: Lost Meets Star Wars and the Sixth Sense ... The Problem with Baby Aaron and the Return of the Oceanic Six ... 5.14: Eloise, Daniel, and Obsession Trumping Paradox ... 5.15: Moral Compasses in Motion ... Season Five Finale: Jacob and Locke

and The Richard-Locke Compass Time Travel Loop

reviews of 6th Season: Lost Season Six Double Premiere ... Three Questions Arising from the Lost Season Six Premiere: Linkage Between Two Realities,  Dead Bodies Inhabited, Who/What Survived H-Blast? ... Lost 6.3:  Kate and Claire, Tenacious Details, and Dr. Arzt's Arse at the Airport ... Lost 6.4:  Better LA, Wilder Island, Some Partial Answers at Last ... Lost 6.5: Jack's Family and Prester John's Speculum ... Lost 6.6: Sayid the Assassin in Both Realities ... Lost 6.7: A Better Ben in Both Realities ... Lost 6.8: The Third Team ... Lost 6.9: Richard's Story ... Lost 6.10: Cloudy Sun ... Lost 6.11: Reunion of Two Realities Begins ... Lost 6.12: Libby and Hurley and Cross-Reality Communication ... Lost 6.13: Make-Up, Break-Up, Everything is Shake-Up ... Lost 6.14: Jack's Tears ... Lost 6.15: Jacob and Esau/MIB ... Penultimate Lost:  Coincidence for Fate

"As a genre-bending blend of police procedural and science fiction, The Silk Code delivers on its promises." -- Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review


Anonymous said...

I posted a piece on Heroes vs. Lost (spoiler alert: Heroes kicked those no-plot-advancing fools around). Read it here: http://www.thejay.com/2006/12/11/heroes-lost-rumble/

- The Jay

Paul Levinson said...

Just read it - even before you posted your comment. I enjoyed it!
Feel free to come by here, anytime!

Anonymous said...

hurley is having a dream, and the show will end up with him back in the mental institutuion

Paul Levinson said...

Well, the world being anyone's dream - includuing Hurley's - is certainly always a possibility.

But I would be even more disappointed with that than the Purgatory explanation.... :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul Levinson, I really liked your insightful comments about this show, especially your ideas about the nature of the flashbacks. I don't think purgatory is what's going on (in fact I'm quite sure), but it needn't necessarily be a trite solution if it were. It would depend on HOW it was purgatory, and whether the whole web of coincidences and parallel events worked to make for a intriguing story with potential for powerful, elaborate, and meaningful interpretations. After all, who knows what the hell "purgatory" should be like? Besides, Dante, that is.
I would prefer it if the whole thing could be resolved without dreams, ghosts, souls, hell, purgatory, or anything like that, but I really don't see how that could possibly be done. I do hope the whole thing isn't a dream --that would be a terrible resolution. Perhaps, as you seem to suggest, it's a little of both. There is a "real" project, a "real" conspiracy, and it involves mind and memory manipulation, but part of what we see as relevant to the story are the mental effects of this project on its victims. This creates the kind of genre problem Hitchcock had with the lying flashback . . . Now I'm realizing I didn't really read your entire bit on genre, I just scrolled down to the HItchcock part, so sorry if any of this is sort of what you said!

Paul Levinson said...

You didn't miss a thing - excellent, perceptive comment!

I'm thinking/hoping/hearing that Lost will go the time travel route. Desmond as time traveler would certainly explain his meeting Jack on the stadium steps. But time travel behind all the back story coincidences would be an incredibly complex weave of story lines (was Kate's father time traveling, too - when he met Sayid - and why?) ...

Should be an exciting ride ... the next few weeks, and the next few years ...

Come back here whenever you like, and continue your analysis as the show progresses...

Anonymous said...

Thanks,Paul. I'm Bill, the "anonymous" of the previous long message (May 12). If you're right about time travel, then maybe the whole thing is an advanced project from the future designed to fix something historical(or learn from it), and then maybe that project itself went awry. The retro Dharma videos and computers were set up to coincide with the “native time” and nature of its subjects. The island only exists in the future, but maybe a few powerful people in the present are in on it in some way, notably the father of Desmond’s girlfriend and maybe Ben. Getting on and off the island in the way Desmond does causes the accompanying time/space complications. Perhaps this island is the only land left on the future Earth, and all the whisperings are actually its many, many future inhabitants, not necessarily humans, who have the power and technology to summon (and perhaps embody) subjects from different times. You're right, the more you try to explain things, the more complicated it gets. On another note, have you noticed that the show has an obsession about bad fathers?

Paul Levinson said...

Hey, Bill - yeah, I have noticed the father thing on Lost ... especially interesting, when you consider that the key motivation of most of Alias was the relationship between Sydney and Jack Bristow (her father)...

On time travel - I'm thinking it's part of the explanation, but not the whole story ... isn't that helpful? :)

Mellowcreme Pu said...

A lot of what you say makes very good sense, but I'm curious about one thing. There are many coincidences that are very large that the characters are not aware of, but if they are not aware of them, couldn't we as people just as easily be having such run-ins and never being aware of it. Maybe the writers are making a comment abour the greater tapestry weaved by life. That's just something that I thought of.

Sometimes it seems to me that maybe the island (or something anyway) is reaching out and drawing all these people together as they start to mix. Perhaps whatever this thing is finds one person, somehow, then when that person comes in contact with someone else, it can follow that person and then continue on down the line, until it finds all the pieces to the puzzle it needs to complete. It's almost searching for them in a way, and the coincidences are how it found each of them.

That's just something I thought of while reading your very well thought out and articulate post here. Good show. I love dialogue between fans.

Anonymous said...

hey thats a really interesting point. i always viewed the coincidences as irrelevent-just something to spice up the show for the fans, but the idea that by crossing paths, the characters all end up taking the same route in defo. worth a think. however, if this was true, how would their meetings result in ending up on the island? lastly-why do they never uncover coincidences/do you think they ever will? for example, jack and claire being related.

Paul Levinson said...

At least one of the coincidences was realized - when Jack recognizes Desmond after first entering the hatch at the beginning of Season 2...

But you're right, the others are not recognized, and even this Jack-and-Desmond recognition doesn't go any further - at least, not that we can see....

My guess is the characters won't start acknowledging the coincidences until the whole series moves closer to completion - because, once they do, we'll also then learn what the coincidences mean...

Jeff Schiller said...

I agree the coincidences are hard to ignore and seem to point to some underlying revelation - but I thought I remember hearing or reading an interview with Carlton Cuse / Damon Lindellof that these types of coincidences will never be explained, they just make interesting storytelling.

Paul Levinson said...

I never take as gospel what the producers say, Jeff - because, for one, they could always change their minds... and, two, they might be deliberately trying to throw off-track...

Anonymous said...

Really interesting approach -- and I think you are right that the core coincidences (Hugo/numbers;Jack/Desmond) have to turn out to be central to the ultimate resolution.

But I did want to observe that it's not unreasonable that there would be the sort of random coincidences that pepper the flashbacks. Given the huge number of people we interact with or merely pass along the way and the law of permutations, we all have these types of intersections with everyone we meet. The guy you bumped into at the gas station last week has bumped into or spoken to someone you know in your life. It would be overwhelmingly unlikely that there's NO connection between you and him. On that view, the only 'weird' thing about the coincidences in the flashbacks is that the intersections happen to pop up at points in people's lives that are important enough to be told in a flashback about them. But I think that pointing out the odd coincidences in the flashbacks could well be the producer's way of pointing out that we really are all interconnected. And then using that background interconnection in order to provide a backdrop for the few links that really do bear weight in the story.

Paul Levinson said...

True about everyone being interconnected - but, there weren't that many people on the plane, in comparison to all the people in the world, so the odds of two people on the plane, or on the plane and otherwise on the island (like Jack and Desmond) running into each before the crash would have to be exceeding low - to happen even just once. Yet, in Lost, it's happened a lot...

Welcome to Infinite Regress, Maggie...

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,
It's Bill from the May 13 and 14 posts last year. I'm no longer such a procrastinator though!
It's been a while. What do you think of the season thus far? Looks like your time travel prediction was right, and it's also beginning to look like the producers did in fact have some things worked out in advance. What do you make of occasional literary allusions? Are they just flourishes from the writers' grad school classes or are they functioning as meaningful clues? Turn of the Screw in the hatch a long time ago w/Desmond, the book club w/Ben, the Boethius "Destiny is a fickle bitch" from Ben last night, and theere was a long shot on a book Ben was reading 2 weeks ago (that was recognizable), but right now I can't remember what it was.
Just wondering if you'd noticed.

Paul Levinson said...

Welcome back, Bill!

You can find my reviews of this season of Lost - which I think is the best so far (even better than the first) - starting here at Lost's Back...

I noticed and mentioned Ben's "Destiny is a fickle bitch" ... but good connection by you to Boethius!