We still don’t know exactly what Daniel Faraday was off doing in Ann Arbor, but we do know that because 1977 is the present for the Freighties and O6ers, they can die.
And my beloved scruffy physicist is dead. Shot by his own mother. Which is, like, totally harsh, dude.
We do know, though, that during his time in Ann Arbor, Faraday got to thinking about his whole “whatever happened, happened” hypothesis and returns to the island thinking that he might be able to actually change the future. He tells Jack and the rest of the A3 that they “don’t belong here,” and proceeds to sneak into the construction site of the Orchid station to vainly warn Pierre Chang against releasing the island’s electromagnetic energy. He warns him that one day, an incident will occur at the site of The Swan, which he knows because he’s from the future. He also informs Chang that Miles there is his son, all growed up, which Chang doesn’t seem to have much of a reaction to other than cementing his assumption that Faraday is batshit crazy. Faraday explains to Miles that he’s just playing agent of destiny, telling Chang all of these things so that he does what he’s supposed to do (i.e. get people off the island prior to, possibly, what is known as “The Incident,” which we’ll learn all about in the finale – two of those people being his wife and son). He later sets little Charlotte on her path, telling her that she needs to leave the island on the submarine with her mommy and not return. (I greatly appreciated the detail where she announces she isn’t allowed to eat chocolate for dinner, which was my favorite part of her dying ramblings. It really cemented that her mind collapsed back to this moment when she was set on her “destined path.”)
With Phil tied up in the closet, Sawyer and Juliet realize that their time amongst the Dharma Initiative has to come to an end soon. He provides the A3 and the Left Behinders with a choice: they can get on the sub and leave the island without incident, or they can go back to the beginning and disappear into the jungles. Jin refuses to leave if there’s even a chance that Sun is on the island, and Faraday bursts in, wanting to know how he can find the Hostiles. He needs to talk to his mother, he says, and get her help in getting everyone back to their correct place in time. Juliet gives Dan the code for the fence (141717) and Sawyer sends Jack and Kate to steal a motorpool van and take him out to Hostile territory. Once they’re out the door, Sawyer and Juliet send Hurley to pack a bag and, hand in hand, the LaFleurs begin to pack up the life they’ve made together.
Once Dan, Kate and Jack hit up the motorpool, they’re stopped by Ranjinsky, who is rightfully suspicious of their activities and starts a shootout with them, grazing Faraday’s neck with a bullet, which, once the trio are safely off to the fence in a Dharma Jeep, having distracted Ranjinsky et al with explodeys, causes him to ruminate on the fact that the things happening to them in 1977 constitute their present, so they are not infallible, in a nice bit of foreshadowing. He explains that he’d spent a lot of time thinking about what is constant with time travel, but never about the variables. People, he supposes, are the variables. People like himself, Kate and Jack, trapped in a time in which they do not belong. If that’s true, then perhaps they can change things before they start to happen. There will be an incident involving a release of energy, which causes Dharma to build The Swan to contain that energy by pressing a button every 108 minutes which, one day, Desmond David Hume will fail to press, releasing a burst of energy that brings down Oceanic 815 and sets the castaways past in motion. But if Faraday can prevent that incident from occurring by detonating a hydrogen bomb (Jughead, which he conveniently told the Hostiles to bury), he might be able to stop all of that from happening.
Ranjinsky and his men head to LaFleur to report what just happened to them and find that he’s packing to leave. Once they discover Phil in the closet, Ranjinksy holds the two hostage and threatens to shoot them as the alarm sounds over Dharmaville, putting everyone on high alert. Faraday enters into Hostile territory brandishing a gun and demanding to see Eloise. Alpert tries to calm him down, seeming to recognize the scruffy physicist but not quite sure from where until Daniel tells him he helped him bury a bomb in 1954 (which really freaks Alpert out, presumably because he thought he was the only person in the world that doesn’t age). But before Alpert can help Daniel get to that bomb, he’s shot in the back, by his own mother. As he dies, he mutters: “You knew. You always knew this was going to happen. Yet you sent me anyway.”
In fact, Eloise had been pushing Daniel toward this destiny all along. Although he loved music as a child, she pushed him toward mathematics, citing his natural ability for numbers, demonstrated by the fact that, even as he plays music, he knows exactly how many times the metronome has moved since he began. I really loved the following exchange between Eloise and her young son, which I found eerily prescient and indicative of Daniel’s character arc for this episode:
Daniel: I can do both. I can make time.
Eloise: If only you could.
At Oxford, Faraday’s mother tried to push him away from girlfriend/lab assistant Theresa Spencer, warning him that every woman in his life will get hurt, but covering by suggesting that they’ll come to that state by always feeling like they’re second to his work. (Not, you know, because their minds will time travel and then collapse, leaving Theresa in a coma and Charlotte, well, dead.) Later, to commemorate the receipt of his doctorate, Eloise gives Daniel the beautiful leather journal we’ve seen him cling to throughout his tenure on Lost. Its inscription reads, “No matter what happens, remember that I will always love you.” That day, he also receives a $1.5M Pound Sterling research grant from one Charles Widmore, the research that eventually puts Theresa in a coma and turns Daniel into a gibbering mess of what he once was when he tests his theories on himself. Widmore pays him a visit after the crash of Oceanic 815, which the then-addled Daniel feels strangely, emotionally connected to, and tells the young scientist that he faked the wreckage and that people from that flight are still alive on a mysterious island that, if Daniel can help him find it, will heal him and make him capable of doing research again. Although he isn’t sure he can do what Widmore wants him to do, Eloise convinces him to go along on Widmore’s journey, promising him that it will heal his broken mind.
The exchange between Faraday and Eloise at his childhood piano and her inscription in his journal, I think, are really the touchstones for this episode. As I mentioned before, Daniel’s childhood wish that he can “make time” ends up being exactly what he tries to do before being shot down by his own mother figuratively (in that childhood exchange) and literally in his final scene in Hostile territory. She goes to visit Desmond and Penny in hospital to explain to Ms. Hume how her son is responsible for Des getting shot in the groceries (which, by the way, do not stop bullets – Des is just totally badass and fought Ben through the pain), which is, I think, her way of admitting her own responsibility for the hand she had in Faraday’s fate. Later, after Penny has gone in to talk to her husband (who is A-OK thanks to that grocery shield), Eloise runs into Widmore outside the hospital. He tells her he won’t go in to see Penny because he had to sacrifice his relationship with his daughter to do his work, a claim which angers Eloise so much that she feels the need to defend her actions toward her son, because while Widmore may have sacrificed his relationship with Penny, it was Eloise who sacrificed her son. She guided him on the path of his destiny, which was ultimately to be shot by her own hand. (By the way, Widmore is Faraday’s dad, in case you were wondering. And he is rather unmoved by this whole situation.) Yes, Daniel’s dying words were correct. She knew. And yet she sent him anyway because that’s how things had to happen. Death was Faraday’s present, but there was no way he was going to be able to change the island’s past – Eloise was always going to stop him. Whatever happened, happened.
This, along with Eloise’s sweet, but sad, “If only you could,” feeds in to Lost‘s greater themes about fate and destiny, in adding more proof that they are constant. But I’m struck here by the similarity between Eloise and the Virgin Mary, both of whom lived their entire maternal lives knowing that their sons were born to die as sacrificial lambs for God, Fate or the Greater Good. I’ve never thought of Eloise as sympathetic before or even really relatable (even though she is played by the wonderful Fionnula Flannigan). But here, in seeing her relationship to her son, I think I finally got to know her, and I do believe that the cold, manipulative face of the Agent of Fate is indeed tempered with a heavy amount of maternal sadness. That “if only you could” is as much mourning her son’s eventual death as it is mourning her own inability to prevent it, in spite of the fact that, as a loving mother, she should do what she can to protect her son, to be a Warrior Mother like Kate.
I may not have been moved to tears by “The Variable” as I was by its clear partner “The Constant,” but I think it’s a pretty brilliant, poetic and moving addition to the Lost canon. Yet another stellar episode in a stellar season. I will be forever haunted by the image on young Daniel’s futile protest of his destined path, wanting to sit at that piano and make time, as he unconsciously counts the movements of the metronome, keeping time the way it is and was, not the way he wants it to be.
A terrifying, tragic episode in a season of slow burns and emotional catharses. While many of the episodes this year may not be the most exciting or adrenaline-pumping, they are the most intellectually stimulating, not only for their deep dive into metaphysics and time travel but also their storybook-like acknowledgement of destinies both spiritual and scientific. As Faraday struggles to get a grasp on the past, present and future, doing everything in his power to rationalize the impossible, we as viewers see a different plot of a desperate man railing against what he knows in the back of his mind is incapable of being changed. The bright, brilliant man who has helped the Losties so greatly with his exposition and knowledge of the island and all of its physics-related qualities now becomes the helpless pawn in a game he is all to familiar with, and it’s startlingly upsetting.
The worst moment, in terms of pity, comes when Daniel approaches young Charlotte and proceeds to tell her what we already knew, that one day a strange man came to her and told her to never come back to the island for fear of death, and it’s Faraday’s sadness that truly makes the scene incredible. Nothing he could say to Charlotte could make her not return to the island, because we all know she will. Faraday knows it too, but it’s as if he thinks that if he believes it enough, he can change both their destinies. Alas.
I’m not sure if I can handle Faraday being dead. If there’s any other character in this show that I would love to be resurrected Locke-style, it would be him. But if this is the last we see of him, we know he went out on a great episode overflowing with emotion, information and the cruel hand of fate.