“Get” Lost — entry #1: July 8, 2005 (RMG)

Dear Damon,

After I'd watched a season of Lost I couldn't help be struck by its resemblance to the riddles we used to play, so I decided to play it, whether or not other friends of yours are playing along. The questions to be addressed are mostly those of a standard mystery, principally whodunit and how and why. At this stage I have only the beginnings of guesses as to the who, and of means, motive, and opportunity I can give good answers only for the means (“opportunity” to take on a particular meaning as discussed below). A premature attempt I made early in the winter of 2004 5 (wherein I left your mother a phone message having much the same function as this letter) I would just as soon we forget about, because now I think I was way off.

But in addition to the usual mystery puzzle elements, because this is a TV show for the general public, we who know you have the additional challenge of figuring out why certain items were chosen to be included, and what inspirations there might've been for them.

If you are reading this before the hour of judgement — that is, before Lost has no further mysteries to disclose (which I hope is because it has concluded a successful run) — I trust you will only snicker among your colleagues and not tip anything to me. However, I have no assurance that any of you will refrain from responding in Lost itself to feedback from fans. Still, I trust the public statements that have been made that its most important elements (which would be the main questions addressed by this contest) have been outlined in advance, and that therefore we do not face a moving, reacting “target”.

Lost presented an ostensible mid-air dismemberment of a jumbo jet, the isolation of passengers from one section of the plane, the survival of many of them, their arrival on land with some of the wreckage, and the scattering of at least some of them over the nearby land before they regained consciousness. This is such an improbable happening that I will analyze it by process of elimination.

Analysis by fans in Usenet group alt.tv.lost had many of them seriously entertaining the possibility that the writers had simply goofed, or that they expected the audience to cut them, not just the plenty of slack you asked us to, but a truly gigantic portion. That means you would have to be way, way off on the probability and survivability of such a rip-and-crash-and-scatter. We can safely rule this possibility out. There may be many subsequent times at which you would goof, possibly having written yourselves into some corner from which logical escape is impossible regarding some detail — with the emphasis on the word “detail”. There is no way you would've done that in establishing the central premise of the pilot episode! In discussion of this point in alt.tv.lost, your meticulousness was noted as to answering the “atrophy issue” regarding John Locke, by his use of electro-stimulation.

Next I turn to physical means by which such a wreck could plausibly have been accomplished. A poster in alt.tv.lost, clued in by the geomagnetic anomaly mentioned by Republican Guard Sayid, suggested an immensely powerful electromagnet on Craphole (the unfortunate name we adopted there for “the island”, which as of this writing still hasn't been definitely established as an island), which reminded me of an episode of “Get Smart!” (“So, you plan to use this to steal watches from passing ships.” “No, we plan to steal passing ships!”). By changing it from a magnet to an AC induction coil, both attraction and repulsion can be achieved, and a scenario could be constructed in which its operation induced eddy currents that could rip a plane apart in mid-air and guide a portion of it softly enough to the ground. Meanwhile John Pachak tried to envision some way another aircraft could grapple with the airliner in mid-air. However, we rejected both of these as too far fetched.

So the only remaining plausible hypothesis is that the plane crash was simulated for the “benefit” of one or more of the passengers. In settling firmly on this answer I am far from alone among viewers, although the possible physicality of the crash is still as of this writing hotly debated on alt.tv.lost. However, accepting it as a simulation led me quickly to inferences which seem to have been mine alone, but of which I am firmly convinced.

The means of rendering the passengers unconscious revealed itself independently to me and many other viewers. The pilot simulates violent turbulence by knocking the plane about, and the passengers willingly put on the breathing masks (which have dropped ostensibly due to loss of pressure) and unknowingly take the anesthetic gas. You were very careful to show us the compartmentful of passengers all ostensibly breathing thru the masks, although some of them had a delay in putting them on. (At one point I'd thought that delay significant in the case of Fugitive Kate, who was the only one to claim having been awake thru the “crash”, but now I won't commit to believing in its importance.)

It's not clear to me whether the other “effects” shown (parts of plane separating, wind, passenger blown thru aisle) were intended to represent SFX staged for the on-board “audience”, or merely confabulation in the minds of those passengers afterward. I'll accept either, and those details are not important to me. What is important is the question of why, if the show was supposed to be convincing to some or all of the Losties (i.e. the “survivors”), such a far-fetched type of wreck (mid-flight disintegration) was staged.

I once told you about the plot of “One of Our Aircraft Is Empty”, an episode of Department S. In it, an airliner was hijacked in mid-ocean, landed at the Supervillain's Lair (to borrow terminology from Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond), the passengers debarked to be held for ransom. (The plane then took off, the henchmen parachuted out, and landed — on schedule thanks to a tailwind — via automatic landing system.) That's fine if the usual sort of kidnapping is your motive. (I'm guessing that by relating that plot to you, I provided inspiration for Lost. But then again, you may not remember it!) But what if you don't want the world to find out? (About the kidnapping, I mean, not your inspiration!)

Here's where Lost provides its own answer, which I've convinced John of, but which posters at alt.tv.lost seem very reluctant to accept. After the passengers in only the middle section were debarked, still unconscious, Oceanic 815 took off again to complete its scheduled flight to LAX, with the passengers in other sections allowed to regain consciousness and exit as if nothing had happened but some severe turbulence. It is possible, although probably not necessary, for henchmen to have filled some or all of the otherwise empty seats in the middle section, but who counts the passengers coming off an airliner? If that section is presumed to have deplaned first, passengers from other sections passing thru an empty section of the plane would think nothing of it. (See below for the Rose problem.)

(Here I'll make my guess as to another inspiration for Lost. Is it just a coincidence that it provided a parodic “explanation” for how Sammo “survived” falling out of an airplane in mid flight? Given your previous visitation of that “problem” in Crossing Jordan — in an episode widely recognized as an abortive TV series opener — and that the “fit” to Lost's plot as divined by me is just too good, I'm guessing this was no mere coincidence. On the other hand, splitting the difference, I'm guessing that you would've done similarly even if Carlton Cuse had not become producer of Lost.)

Two principal objections have been raised to my inference. One is that an official show-related WWW site seems to acknowledge that Oceanic 815 crashed. While I suppose it is possible that Oceanic was a phony airline concocted merely to suck the Losties in, I believe this caper was an inside job requiring no apparent disruption to Oceanic's operations, and that the Web pages, albeit official, are not to be believed as consistent with the plot of Lost. If we are following the main time line of the show, I think that as of “now”, 40 days in (according to your p.r. which I do take as consistent with the plot), Oceanic is operating just fine with nobody the wiser. A handful of Oceanic employees, well paid for their cooperation, are aware of flight 815's unannounced landing and of its pilot's unorthodox maneuver. Perhaps this isn't even the first or last time they pulled such a stunt.

(The resemblance of Oceanic's logo to Charles Raspil's spatters I'm guessing to be just a synchronicity.)

The other objection is that it would be difficult to assure that nobody would be waiting for a missing passenger at the gate at LAX who would recognize that passenger. I assume that this problem is going to be dealt with in detail by one or more episodes of Lost which are as of this writing yet to come. Some in alt.tv.lost saw what they believed to be resemblance between one or more of the “pirates” on the small boat in the concluding episode of season 1 and one or more Losties, and have suggested human cloning as a way of making my inference work, but I do not take that tack. (Others thought the resemblance was metaphoric, or pointed to a character's imagination, but it may simply be imagined by viewers. I'll have to pay close attention when that episode is rerun, and possibly to the DVD.)

The passengers in the middle section (excluding henchmen, if any) could have been pre-screened by the same detective work used to steer them onto the flight, to reduce the chance of their having someone waiting for them at the airport. Many of them would be making further transportation connections, and they could easily “disappear” as individuals later in their itineraries after a phony trail of e-mails, phone calls, hotel registrations, etc. was left for them. Their disappearances (or “death” leaving an unidentifiable body) might be mysterious, but nobody is likely to connect them or to suspect such a preposterous idea as that they'd disappeared from a flight in mid-ocean. In some cases it may even be possible to convince friends or family that a given passenger didn't even get on the plane in Australia. We were clued in to that last possibility by the remark to Korean Wife in the airport that things had been set up for her escape such that her family would believe she'd been kidnapped.

One special problem is posed by Fugitive Kate and the Marshal. If he is indeed a US marshal, certain chain of custody procedures would be applied beginning with deplaning in L.A. A substitute fugitive and “marshal” and papers would have to be provided and later disappear, or a bribe given and taken. However at this stage I have doubts about the Marshal and the Fugitive; if they're playing some kind of game that began in Australia, then at least the marshal was a phony and the special problem does not apply. I reserve judgement at this stage as to which solution applies.

There's also the Rose Problem. She was heard to tell Dr. Jack post-”crash” that she was wearing her husband's wedding ring, and that he was alive in the tail section of the plane. If indeed she had a husband who had gone to use the bathroom in another part of the plane, then the entire scheme breaks down unless at least he was in on the plot. John has brought up the possibility that she didn't really have a husband, only an actor who was sitting next to her until the appointed time. However, the solution I'm committing to at this writing is that Mr. & Mrs. Rose were both in on it, and this is a sort of Divorce Oceanic Style (Mr. Rose walks away single at LAX), and that Mrs. Rose, although accepting of the situation, is unhappy about it. That is, her sadness was real. It seems likely that Mr. Rose's departure of the mid section of the airliner was the signal that the charade of the “turbulence” and “breakup-crash” was to begin.

Dr. Jack's father's body of course arrived in L.A. where the expected arrangements (which did not require Jack's presence) were carried out; a note will have been received from “Jack” regarding his absence at the funeral. Craphole was supplied with a duplicate, albeit empty, coffin, which seemed to have landed in an unlikely place.

But where is Craphole? I deduced from the clues in the small smuggler's plane that it is in the Bight of Africa, i.e. in the Atlantic Ocean but close to Nigeria. That would place it in the vicinity of Fernando Poo, which placement I believe to be a deliberate, albeit very indirect, allusion by you to Illuminatus! Therefore after the landing at the Supervillain's Lair in the Pacific, the Losties had to be removed, still unconscious, and transported half a world away, where presumably there were features unavailable at the Supervillain's Lair, which may have been a mere dot in the ocean. Pregnant Lady's pregnancy put a limit on the time available for these arrangements (I'm not going with any scenario that requires her to be impregnated again). Shorter-term biologic details such as filling of urinary bladders and beard growth were taken care of easily, as well as resetting of calendar watches, so slippage of a day or few is no problem. There is no technical barrier to maintaining the Losties in a stuporous state during that time, although if their anesthesia was light we may get some flashback scenes or accounts relating to experiences some of them had while in that condition. Considering the dramatic value of such bits, I'll predict as of now that you will supply some such memories at some point.

The difference in deviation between magnetic North and North Star North between mid-Pacific and west coast of Africa I don't believe to be sufficient to account for the discrepancy reported by Sayid, which I believe to be due to hidden magnetic equipment on Craphole, probably part of the extensive rigging of Craphole with SFX apparatus to simulate the presence of monsters or mysterious forces. The location of Craphole of course makes Arzt's remarks about the monsoon ironically irrelevant.

My friend Allie (a friend of the late Elliot Werner, whom you may have met) formulated the term “Island Powers” to describe those behind the events of Lost. They seem to have a tough job on their hands. They must have conducted a very thorough search of Oceanic 815 to find the heroin Musician Charlie left in the toilet, and plant it in the corresponding “wreckage”.

Given that attention to detail and verisimilitude, why did the Island Powers allow at least some of the Losties to awaken, not in the seats they'd been belted into, but scattered over the land in the vicinity of the “wreck”? In discussion with Allie I went over the evidence and my deduction that ruled out the possibility that they'd been dragged out of the fuselage by other Losties who'd come to consciousness earlier. Basically, it was evidence of John Locke's and Dr. Jack's body placement (including distance, facing, and Locke's slightly removed shoe), plus absence of credit taken by the draggers-out, that convinced me to rule out that possibility. Rather, I conclude that the placement of the Losties was a compromise that, with the help of one or more confederates of the Island Powers among them, allowed them to believe there were dead passengers in the fuselage without actual killing of the passengers being required.

Here we must invoke the arts of stage and close-up magic, many of whose illusions depend on the audience's not being allowed to look too long or too closely at the things being simulated. Had the Losties been allowed to wake up in their seats, they would have had just such a view of the “corpses”. However, if they first come to consciousness outside the “wreck” and are simply led to believe the fuselage contains dead bodies, then a few of them may be allowed in under controlled conditions without investigating too thoroughly, and the illusion maintained. Magic must be a lot easier when the “audience” doesn't know it's a show. The revulsion most people feel toward carcasses (especially human ones), plus a little cadaver “perfume”, would help a lot. The destruction of the corpses by the burning of the fuselage (a suspicious action, Jack's justification for which seems insufficient and suspicious in itself) further limited the exposure of the trick.

To the extent that the “corpses” represented people who would continue the flight to LAX, they present a technical problem to the Island Powers similar to the Rose Problem. It seems a shame to have to augment the number of henchmen so, but it seems they all had to be in on it. I would prefer to have only a handful of Oceanic employees involved, but I'm not the game master here. It has been noted in alt.tv.lost that none of the Losties knew any of the “dead”, and that it is remarkable that death did not divide any married couples or other relatives on the plane.

The biggest carnage challenge would appear to be Legless Man, who was administered to by Dr. Jack in the opening minutes of the show and ostensibly died. It is inconceivable that the Island Powers could have arranged for someone to be so critically injured and yet alive just when the Losties “came to”. Therefore it must've been another magic trick; either the rest of his body was under the sand, or he was an amputee made to look like he was freshly injured. It would be a masterful act to fool Dr. Jack (if he really was a doctor) so close-up, and therefore strongly suggests Dr. Jack was in on the act; however, I am not quite prepared to commit as of this writing to fingering Dr. Jack as part of the conspiracy, although with this and other evidence I'm very close to firmly concluding that. I don't know what happened to Legless Man's “corpse”. I think Engine Sucked Guys' death was real & accidental.

The Losties were supplied with a plausible excuse for their not being the objects of a search: the “pilot”'s account. Of course the pilot was a plant, rigged with elastic to pull him up into the tree and make it appear he'd been yanked out of the “wreck” by some monster or mysterious force. This was the method (albeit involving a costume only, not an entire body) used to make someone disappear in Masks of the Illuminati, which I read from your father's library and which I suspect you've read and were inspired by. In fact the whole “Devil's masquerade” concept about which the plot of that book revolved, along with its delayed revelation to the reader, strongly resembles the method of Lost. There was no truth to the story of being off course and out of communication as related by the “pilot”. I note also the conspicuous absence of Dr. Jack at a certain point in that scene (as explained by Kate in response to Charlie's question), which may indicate he had something to do with the “monster” effects. It was also convenient to have the “corpse” of the “pilot” arrive in a tree where it would not be examined.

After that the predicament of the Island Powers w.r.t. the Losties took on a resemblance to The Truman Show, with the Island Powers sometimes scrambling to patch up the illusion when the Losties saw things they weren't supposed to see, and sometimes just tossing in an apparent synchronicity for fun. In the latter category, I don't know whether the Powers would've had enough time to secure a polar bear after finding one in Hugo/Hurley's comic book, but I'll guess they did, and that it was therefore no synchronicity. In the former category, the Powers need at least one spy among the Losties. At a minimum, they have John Locke.

Locke's paralysis is real and organic. (See John Pachak's addendum for an opposing view.) However, he has been surgically implanted with a device by the Island Powers to correct it. But the Powers have the ability to switch the implant off & on by radio. This is how they maintain their control over Locke. He also has a voice communication device either implanted or secreted on his person. So when he seemed to be pleading to be allowed to walk, he really was pleading with them.

During the scene in which Charlie wanted to go off privately and consume heroin, Locke insisted that he remain in his sight, ostensibly for safety reasons. Actually, that was to make sure Charlie wouldn't be in position to see the people placing his guitar up in a tree.

The Losties were not supposed to receive the French female-voiced looping radio distress call. I conclude the distress call has nothing to do with Craphole, and is coming from the African mainland. It presents the SOS of the last survivor of a deadly endemic infectious disease such as Ebola. (“Il les a tués tous.”) It may emanate from Cameroon or some other area where someone stationed or entering to investigate would be likely to speak French but be using loop-generating equipment with an English “voice”. That person died soon afterward, but the transmitter is in an inaccessible place which nobody wants to enter anyway because it is disease-ridden, and therefore the transmission has simply gone on for approximately the length of time Sayid calculated. The “rocher noir” referred to in that message is presumably some landmark the sender figured recipients would recognize.

The Losties could not be allowed to triangulate on the signal, or they would realize they are close to other land. Eventually Locke claimed to be the one who blackjacked Sayid, and Locke may well have been the one to do so, or it may have been another confederate. Somehow Locke's ultra-lame excuse to Sayid for doing so was enough to keep Sayid from shooting him on the spot.

Meanwhile the Island Powers recruited someone whose voice sounded close enough to that on the radio, and planted her on Craphole as French Lady. She was supplied with a phony story as to how and when she arrived there, provided props & scenery, and placed where Sayid would find her or vice versa. Her crazy act is just that. The marine cable Sayid found on the way there is unrelated. It probably connects Craphole with the African mainland and/or a nearby island.

The Island Powers were aware of Hurley's affair with The Numbers, and incorporated into French Lady's story a connection. However, details of the account given by Widow of Blown-Out Brains Guy are incompatible, timing-and-details-wise, with its being from the same transmitter. It would be most parsimonious to infer that the Island Powers also engraved the Hatch with those numbers, but I'm not prepared to commit to that inference. Alternatively, the numbers on the Hatch may be a position marker (longitude & latitude), which would clinch its location as not being in the Pacific, and its relationship to the Numbers synchronicitous. Your obvious inspiration for the Numbers is the well-known shortwave numbers transmissions; I used to hear them a lot when I listened to shortwave radio. As to the particular numbers, one of them we shall not write of for we are not sufficiently Illuminated, but John has given me the question for which 42 is the answer: “What is paradise?” (42 is the sum of the spots on a pair o' dice.)

To go with French Lady's story, the Island Powers supplied the Black Rock. Why was it “beached” in such a ridiculous location? Another compromise. The ship could not be constructed on the shore, because the Losties would've been too likely to have either previously explored such a location or to come across it during the construction. So it was placed way upland in a “monster”-guarded place, and apparently the Losties were willing to believe in its antiquity. The dynamite was also artificially “aged”. Note, however, that no radio transmitter was in evidence there. If there'd been a long wave transmitter (as on the frequency Blown-Out Brains had been monitoring) its antenna would've been quite conspicuous. It is also unlikely that someone would've translated the ship's name into French.

It would seem that misdirection was a frequent requirement of the Island Powers' magic tricks. Observation of scenes in Lost might reveal several opportunities for misdirection. For instance, in the Drowning Lady scene all the Losties were seen to face the water. There's not enough evidence to judge whether the drowning was real or staged (no body was shown afterward), but it's enough to illustrate the principle.

The smuggler's airplane was also an inconvenience to the Island Powers. They cut off Locke's leg movement and compelled him, reluctantly, to have Boone investigate the plane, which led to his death. Boone's death is one of the few I'm sure was real. Why Locke did not destroy the Nigerian map and currency, I don't know; perhaps he's trying to help the Losties (against the desires of the Island Powers) as much as he can get away with.

Thru the combined agency of French Lady and Locke (and possibly others), the Island Powers manipulated the Losties to open the Hatch. My only guess as to motive is that there's something in there which the Island Powers are interested in but could not get anyone to investigate knowingly. That would indicate great danger, and possibly great reward.

Besides Locke (of whose role I'm certain), the other Losties (Ethan and French Lady being in another category) I seriously suspect of being agents of the Island are Jack (as previously mentioned), Kate, and the Marshal (or “marshal”), in descending order. They would relate to the Island Powers on a need-to-know basis, so they may still be surprised by developments. Rose, while in the know, I think to be merely along for the ride, although she might take a more active role in the conspiracy depending on the availability of the actor playing her. Dark horses for Island Agent are Hugo/Hurley (most amusing if he is) and Kid Walt, who may be a midget. As in any whodunit, the writer must trade off between surprise and credibility, and you have succeeded in planting enough false clues for us to suspect practically everyone.

(Note however my willingness to sacrifice a great deal to my sense of humor and intrigue. For quite a while I thought Smallville would eventually reveal Clark Kent to not be a space man, and that that was just a cover story he was told by Pa Kent.)

One thing Agents of the Island would not necessarily have been told is each other's' identities. Jack's address to the crowd to the effect that a week earlier (i.e. just before the flight), “most of us were strangers” (caught early by Melroseman in alt.tv.lost; emphasis added) seems to cover many possibilities. In that same episode a private exchange between Jack & Kate to the effect that Drowned Lady wasn't “supposed to” have been on that flight, and that Jack (therefore?) felt responsible for her death, also cast suspicion on both. Jack would be very useful as someone who could be trusted by the Losties to examine injuries and pronounce deaths. His last name could be a clue that he “shepherds” the Losties.

A convenient role for Ethan Rom (the Other Man) would have been to lay out the Losties in preparation for their regaining consciousness. However, why would his name have been omitted from the “manifest” that'd been planted in the “wreck”? I therefore conclude him to be a free agent, an opportunist in the right place at the right time — the wrong place as it eventually turned out for him. I've decided Charlie was not an Island Agent, and therefore that his shooting Other Man was not an act, and therefore that the latter's death was real. I don't think the Island Powers would've set up Ethan like that.

I'm not sure whether the “pirates” (as they're called in alt.tv.lost) on the small boat are affiliates of the Island Powers or free agents. If Walt is an Agent, they would be there to aid his “escape”, but I consider this a fairly remote possibility on season 1's evidence. The burning of Raft I (at least, his confession of doing it) cast suspicion on Walt.

Other than purposes of art, the only reason I would suspect Hugo is that he'd have the money to finance this...this..whatever it is. On the other hand, the same could be said of the executor of his will (as Allie, who's a lawyer, pointed out).

What of off-Craphole characters? John has recently called attention to the possibility of Korean Wife's Father as being behind all...this. Attractive, but not enough evidence yet. That unseen figure is his own mystery. It would be most amusing if his business turned out to be innocent (or at least very different from anything the audience thinks), as well as the watch and mission his son-in-law was on. (See also speculation below about Locke's father.) The mystery of Sawyer's object of revenge, Kate's crime, and Kate's little airplane, I have to pass on for now.

The curse of the Numbers I take to be purely synchronicitous. If we can be dogged in our own real lives by certain numbers, while others deliberately propagate them, I see no problem with assigning a major role to Cosmic Coincidence Control. Hugo's lottery win was not rigged.

From who & how I now turn to why, i.e. motive. I would be displeased if it turned out this was all just a game without stakes, or with stakes that exist only to motivate the game, but I can't rule out that possibility. It's been pointed out in alt.tv.lost that Kate's flashbacks seem to point to a game that preceded the trans-Pacific flight. How, or even whether, the life issues the Losties have relate causally to their presence on Craphole, I can't guess at this time.

Next category: opportunity. In this case that means, how were these people assembled on flight 815, and in that section of the plane? Of course the last step involved the cooperation of Oceanic employees, but that's a relatively minor point. However, I figure Locke to have been recruited, and his implant surgery done, some time between his being turned down for the “trek” and flight 815's departure. It is tempting as an alternative to think Locke's implant was made at the same time as his kidney donation (which may even have been a sham), and that it works the other way, i.e. to paralyze him when it's turned on. Locke's father (or “father”) would appear to have considerable resources for...this. However, tempting as it is, I don't have enough evidence to make this “accusation” yet. Perhaps the truth about Locke lies somewhere between my scenario and John Pachak's.

Now a few remaining remarks about inspirations and allusions. I've not been as good at catching allusions in Lost as in Millar & Gough's Smallville or Shanghai movies, but many of those are heavy-handed. No need my researching and repeating what others have caught, so I'll concentrate on the personal.

Lady Sitting In Airport reading Nash Bridges script (those fan screen caps sure are something) I take as mere Easter egg. The frequent starting of episodes with extreme close-up of an opening eye, I'm going way out on a limb and guessing that means Lost was turned down by CBS, and that you're sticking it to the CBS eye.

You'll recall I thought Jack was based on me (doctor-daddy issues), but Hurley was the only fat guy. But then Arzt was introduced. How could he not relate to me (underemployed science teacher), especially in view of the dynamite and your unproduced “Mistrials”? I laughed hard. Locke's resemblance to  is pretty clear, as  and I agree, but I also see in Locke a little bit of  that  himself didn't notice. His name connection with Jack I figure to be unintentional, as well as any resemblance of the latter to Jean P. Shepherd.