The 100th episode of a series is something of a landmark event, so I expected big things out of The Variable, especially after reading Damon Lindelof saying it was probably his favorite episode of the season and calling it comparable to The Constant. I figured the two would be related just judging from the title, and once Whatever Happened, Happened came and went without Daniel Faraday, I figured The Variable would be the one to thrust him back into the limelight. I assumed, too, that Desmond would be heavily involved. I figured that would mean more Desmond-Daniel interaction, probably in Daniel flashbacks. I'm rather sad that we didn't get to see them together at all. But the episode still managed to establish an even deeper connection between them.
After Jughead, I had a strong hunch that tough young Other Ellie was Eloise Hawking, which would explain why she looked so familiar to Daniel and further entrench her in the goings-on of the Island. (Obviously it came as a shock to the gang, though. "Your mother is an Other?" Love it!) Because we knew that Charles and Ellie were on the Island together, around the same age and both in some degree of authority, it wasn't much of a stretch to imagine them getting together, resulting in the birth of either Penny or Daniel. Or both? What if Daniel and Penny were twins? But Ben said that Charles had a daughter with an outsider, so that would seem to account for Penny. It doesn't explain where little Daniel was in 1977; surely he was alive at that point? He couldn't have been teaching at Oxford at the age of 19, could he? And why is Daniel's last name Faraday? Is Hawking a married name, or is Faraday? At any rate, the revelation that Charles was Daniel's father didn't really shock me. I wonder, though, why he didn't reveal himself as such to Daniel? Did he and Eloise have an agreement? Giving Daniel the grant seemed like a way of looking after him - though in retrospect it seems more like the opposite, driving him in a direction that he knew would kill him (assuming the conclusion of the episode is as dire as it seems).
Is Daniel dead, or about to die? That's perhaps the biggest question the episode leaves us with, though the answer seems a foregone conclusion. There's the foreshadowing of Daniel telling Jack any one of them could die, of Ms Hawking's sadness throughout the episode but especially in Daniel's childhood, of the devastating conversation between her and Charles outside the hospital. According to the transcript, Charles said "He was my son, too." I don't remember the past tense being there; if it was, definitely another tip-off. Plus, there's the fact that the previews show Jack rifling through Daniel's notebook Why would he need to do that if Daniel was alive?
Then again, while the wound seemed fatal and Daniel seemed in his death throes (with shades of Alex's dying torment as her "father" failed to save her), there've been near-misses before. John in The Man Behind the Curtain, Jin in There's No Place Like Home, Ben in He's Our You... They all seemed done for and pulled through. (Though to be honest, I didn't really believe any of them were dead, especially John and Ben, and they've pretty much got me convinced with Daniel.) If Daniel is among the Hostiles and he is, as Miracle Max might say, only "mostly dead," surely they can bring him back from the brink, and given his urgency and strange message, they might just want to. And maybe Jack and Kate had Daniel's journal, and when they heard the gunshot they ran for it. Believing him dead, they consulted his writings for clues for their next move. Doesn't necessarily mean he was dead.
Nonetheless, while I'm hoping the show will prove me wrong, I'm pretty sure this is the end of the line for poor Daniel. Somehow, I think Ms Hawking will end up with Daniel's journal, and she will read it and use it to manipulate the events of the next 30 years. The journal ends, presumably, with Daniel finding out that Jack, Hurley and Kate have returned to the Island, which is why Hawking is now navigating uncharted territory. But Daniel says Jack wasn't supposed to go back. Jack's return sent him into a panic. I'm not entirely clear on the connection yet, on what made Daniel so sure Jack's return was the wrong thing; like Frank, I tend to find that half the stuff he says goes "way over my head". But obviously he was troubled - not, however, because he had any inkling of his own impending doom.
At first, I thought that Eloise had shot him specifically because she knew what his presence meant, something like Ben killing John when he mentioned Eloise. But now I don't think so. She was just trying to protect Richard. Did she need to be so aggressive, though? Richard appeared almost totally unconcerned. I don't think he truly believed for a minute that Daniel (who had amusingly asked Jack for a gun "for beginners") was going to pull the trigger. I'm also not certain it would have damaged him. If Richard is, as he appears to be, immortal, or at least possessing extraordinary longevity, can he still be killed by violent means? An Elf, for instance, can be killed in battle... Eloise, after living with Richard for upwards of 20 years, must know there is something unusual about him. But maybe she just doesn't want to take any chances. Maybe her reasons were justified, but she and Charles are both pretty quick to dispense death, and I don't find that very admirable. I wonder what would have happened if Daniel had arrives at the Others' camp without a gun. Would he have been shot on sight, or would he have fared better? Also, would Eloise have recognized him as Richard did if she'd seen his face first, and would that have made her more likely to attack or less?
Part of me simply despises Ms Hawking after this episode. She's always been supremely creepy and obviously manipulative, and now we see that she was not only using Desmond as a marionette, she was carefully setting her son on a course that she knew would make him miserable and unhealthy and, presumably, get him killed. All the poor guy wanted to do was be a concert pianist, and she had to mold him into a mad scientist deeply damaged by his experiments. And Charles was in on this, though from a distance. Daniel was right that she was very rude to Theresa, though this struck me as fairly typical possessive mother behavior. I could almost see Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond doing that. Actually, I was most forcefully reminded of Willard; I don't think Daniel and Eloise's relationship was quite as dysfunctional as that, but it certainly was a strange mix of affection and loathing, and I think I've decided that naming the rats Eloise was not a tribute but a passive-aggressive way of lashing out at this woman who made his life so difficult. I don't know if Jeremy Davies will get any Emmy recognition, but this episode could give him a shot at it, especially those anguished last couple of minutes. What a devastating realization...
And yet I found myself feeling sorry for Eloise as well. Because I do believe that she did genuinely love her son, and that sometimes the realization of what she was doing to him crushed her, though mostly she sealed herself off from such emotions so that she could calmly orchestrate what she was certain was the necessary sequence of events. No wonder she always comes across as so icy. I had to laugh at her horrified "Good lord, no!" when Penny asked if she was Ben Linus's mother; she really can't stand Ben, can she? And yet they are, in many ways, so similar... Maybe that's one reason she detests him so much. Observing him, she's forced to face her own true nature. But if Daniel had to return to the Island to stop a cataclysmic disaster, is she really evil for ensuring that it happened? What were her alternatives? From what she told Desmond the first time we saw her, I got the impression that not just the Island, but the whole world was at risk from the Island's anomalies. If it's Kill the Physicist, Save the World, can we forgive her for sending her son to his death? This begs the same sorts of questions posed by The City on the Edge of Forever, arguably the best episode in the original Star Trek series, with Eloise in relation to Daniel occupying a similar role to Kirk in relation to Edith. That's not to say that I think his death was essential, just his knowledge and his plan. Makes me wish she'd written, "When you meet me in the 50s, tell me not to shoot you in the 70s" or something like that in his diary.
I also felt sorry for Charles, even though he flat-out admitted he was the one who planted the fake Oceanic 815 on the bottom of the ocean, an elaborate operation that might well have included mass murder, though perhaps mass grave-robbing would have done the trick. I thought there was some measure of tenderness in his meeting with Daniel, and I also wouldn't be surprised if Daniel was the only member of the special team recruited directly by Widmore. I think he went to see him mostly because he wanted to actually meet his son before he died. He was treating him in a pretty paternal manner, and he seemed to have some depth of feeling about him in that last scene as well. I also felt sorry for him that he had so alienated himself from Penny that he was within a few hundred feet of her and wouldn't attempt to see her, though more than three years had passed since their last meeting. He must have been dying to go in there and talk to her, not to mention meet his grandson, but he was probably right that she would have reacted badly, especially since it was her association with Charles that led to Desmond getting shot.
I was so immensely relieved to see Ben fail to kill Desmond, Penny or Charlie in Dead Is Dead that I let myself believe Desmond was out of the woods. Surely, I thought, he couldn't have been injured too badly if he could turn around and pummel Ben. Mightn't he have been merely knocked down, with the bullet landing in the groceries and never reaching him? But this episode found him in a dire situation, making me fret over his fate all over again. Interestingly, both Ben and Eloise have now expressed regret for what happened to Desmond (and I love Eloise's wistful observation that Charlie has Desmond's hair). I think they mean it. What's more, I got the sense that Charles was glad Desmond had survived. I suspect that if Desmond could ever bring himself to forgive him, Charles might just share his whiskey with Desmond now; the disdain was necessary to drive Desmond to the Island, but I'm guessing Charles has a deeper respect for his son-in-law than most of their previous interactions have intimated. I think there will be more revelations to come about Charles and Eloise in Follow the Leader.
I wonder if Desmond or Penny will ever discover that Penny and Daniel are siblings? I love the idea of that connection, especially of Daniel and Desmond being, in a sense, brothers, so much that I'll give Daniel a pass for almost getting his sister killed. How could he know that would happen? Also, while I'm pretty sure Daniel and Penny are half-siblings, I'm intrigued by the parallelism of the scenes between Charles and Daniel and Eloise and Penny. A father meets his son, and a mother meets her daughter, both parents masking affection in a guise of distant, mild interest? If the twin theory were true, all the greater the tragedy for Daniel, Desmond and Penny...
The Constant is one of the most uplifting episodes in LOST history, while The Variable is one of the most depressing - though it does contain a gleeful Desmond and Penny reunion after some very tense moments wondering whether he was going to survive the episode. I went into the episode worried about both Daniel and Desmond, and when I saw Desmond's peril, I couldn't help but wonder whether Daniel would be able to survive if Desmond died. I loved the nickname Twitchy; the jittery scientist burst back onto the Island still acting as though he'd recently gulped down a couple pots of coffee, and I wondered if he'd lose his grip on reality altogether without his constant to anchor him. Not that Desmond was too easily accessible at this point...
While I don't see where a meeting between Daniel and Desmond would have fit into the episode, it would have been nice for Hurley and Daniel to have some sort of snippet of conversation. He was, after all, the last major character who Hurley had not yet met, but they weren't even properly introduced, and Hurley's query about "Fonzie times" was more directed at Sawyer than Daniel. In fact, Hurley almost might as well have not been in this episode at all, though I did like the fact that he echoed my thoughts regarding Phil, even if they weren't very useful thoughts. What happened to "I'm gonna think," Sawyer? I guess there wasn't time for that, but he sure got himself into a mess. ("What am I supposed to say, 'My fist slipped'?" Ha!) Maybe Hurley can talk Radzinsky down...
Does Sawyer realize what thin ice he's on with Juliet? Did he see the way her eyes flashed when he called Kate "Freckles" and notice that the nickname was what prompted Juliet to divulge the number? I think we may be settling into a groove at last with Sawyer + Juliet and Jack + Kate - and I liked the parallelism of Sawyer asking Juliet, "You still got my back?" just as Jack asked Kate "Are you with me?" in The Little Prince - but I don't know if the drama there is quite over yet. By the way, where is Roger? I doubt we've seen the last of him. Maybe he'll go complicate Jack's life while Sawyer's dealing with Stu. Now would be a good time for Dr. Chang to take Daniel's advice and save the day. (Was I the only one who found all that talk of containment and evacuation eerily resonant in light of the swine flu? They've got electromagnetism to worry about, we've got a supervirus... Though it seems like the panic level has abated somewhat, and maybe we won't be needing to raid Desmond's hatch closet after all.) Funnily enough, Chang's reaction to Daniel regarding the "I'm from the future" comment was about the same as Daniel's reaction to Desmond. Unfortunately, Daniel didn't have the evidence to back him up, especially with Miles being so uncooperative. I wonder if he will switch gears once he realizes the gravity of the situation. I suspect, though, that Miles would be sending Dr. Chang to his death, in a reversal of this episode's situation. I hate the idea of them reconciling only for Miles to have to do that...
Almost the first time we saw Daniel, he was bawling his eyes out and didn't really know why. He's always struck me as a very emotionally open sort of person; he's not too skilled when it comes to human interaction, but he wears his heart on his sleeve. He's also a lousy liar, inspiring annoyance in professional con artists Miles and Sawyer with his ill-advised honesty. Unfortunately, his emotions tend to swing toward the negative end of the spectrum, usually panic, paranoia and grief. I was getting exhausted just watching him in this episode as he zoomed around all aflutter trying to stop impending disaster and rarely taking the time to explain anything. He reminded me of Hermione on a couple of occasions when she gets one of her brain bursts and, after a string of half-sentences, runs out of the Great Hall, leaving Ron and Harry staring after her in befuddlement.
The scene with Charlotte was heart-breaking. He was just so desperately sad, which little Charlotte picked up on; I found their interaction very sweet, and it seemed more like empathy than fear emanating from her. Certainly the warning would have been unnerving, but I thought he delivered it with great gentleness. He didn't say that if she came back she would die. Did he deliberately not say that, hoping to come off as less scary than she said he was? Or was the direness of the encounter amplified in her memory? John never really said to Jack that everyone on the Island would die if he didn't return either; he just said they needed his help. So maybe both of them were unintentionally exaggerating. It's sadly touching that the last thing Charlotte said before she died was a reference to her first conversation with Daniel...
Of course, the scene in Daniel's childhood was quite a downer too. So many of his character traits were present - highly intelligent, sensitive, polite - but he was not a basketcase. Not only was his mother depriving him of the pleasure of his true passion, she was steering him into a field that would have severe psychological consequences for him. I felt so sorry for him when he opened the door to Widmore and, upon not recognizing him, just assumed that they knew each other but he couldn't remember him. Charles had many opportunities to take pot-shots at Daniel there, but aside from his quip about why he was confiding in him about the fake plane and his reminder of the real reason Daniel left Oxford, both quickly followed up by statements of encouragement, Charles left his disdain at the door. He's heaped enough misery upon Desmond; I'd hate to see Daniel have to put up with his tongue-lashing too. This episode also explains how it is that Daniel doesn't remember meeting Desmond. He doesn't remember because he forgets everything. Frankly, I'm surprised he's only got the one notebook; maybe he just saves that one for the really important stuff.
Anyway, in many ways, The Variable was every bit as emotional as The Constant, with panic and grief prevailing instead of confusion and contentment. We only got to see Daniel happy for the briefest of moments at a time before unpleasantness intervened. It was like a Greek tragedy, and thank goodness Desmond was all right, because I couldn't have taken any more bad vibes in one episode - though at least it didn't leave me feeling as hollow as The Shape of Things to Come. (I did feel uneasy, however, about Penny leaving Charlie with that nurse; this is a show on which children get kidnapped, and if I were Penny I might be a little less trusting.) Mainly it left me wanting to throw my arms around Daniel, to give this poor ill-used soul a great big bear hug and assure him he is loved. And to shield him from Eloise as Harry shielded Molly from Voldemort. Daniel, why couldn't you have been wearing a bulletproof vest like Charlotte was when she landed on the Island?
I don't know just what to make of Daniel's idea of undoing the sequence of events leading to the crash. That sounds like a massive paradox to me. But if it actually does work the way he figures it should, does that mean the last season is going to take place almost entirely off the Island? That would be too weird... Doc Jensen has been saying for a while that he thinks season six will begin the same way as season one, but that the particulars of the Flight 815 crash will be different. For instance, several passengers will be missing, and Christian will be alive. It'll start from scratch and be slightly different this time around. That would be interesting too, though it seems like it would also be excessively repetitive. One thing's for sure; this is our last cliff-hanger finale coming up next week, so we're in for a doozy. (I also was noticing that in every finale thus far, we've seen characters drinking alcohol. Ana Lucia, Desmond, Jack, Juliet. Is this a hint as to what we should be doing as we watch these finales?)
I'm guessing that Follow the Leader will be fairly mythology heavy, offering flashbacks that will give us more insight into Charles, Eloise and Richard. Which would be fascinating. But I'm more interested in The Incident, which we've known about since season two. Talk about an oppressive title! Of course I want to see what goes down there, and how the castaways are going to avoid getting blown up and whether the course of history really can be changed. I'm also quite interested in the flashback because TV Guide implied that it would be Hurley-centric. That would be somewhat unusual, both since we've basically had a Hurley episode already this season and since only season two and three had a finale focused on one particular character. But I'm really keen to know what made Hurley decide to board that plane.
And where did Hurley get the guitar? My wild, hopeful guess: Liam. I would so love for us to see Liam and Hurley get together. After all, Jack's cover story seems to have left that possibility open; Hurley could at least give Liam an altered account of Charlie's exploits on the Island, emphasizing his strength of character. He wouldn't even have to change that much; Charlie really did drown, as Jack said, and though it was a week and a half, rather than "a few weeks," before they left, that was still plenty of time for Hurley to have gotten to known him. Then again, maybe Hurley would wind up spilling the beans to Liam like Kate did to Cassidy and Mrs. Littleton. I wish that Hurley could give Liam the ring, but I don't see how he could've gotten his hands on it. He wouldn't have taken it when he thought Charlie was still alive, and as soon as he found out he was dead, he high-tailed it off the beach. I suppose the ring is still sitting in Aaron's crib. But who knows? We may still see it again. (I wonder whether anyone will ever find the message Claire attached to that bird in season three? I was thinking that might blow their cover, but I just went over to Lostpedia and read it, and I guess it's generic enough that it doesn't really contradict their story...)
I'm not sure The Variable is my favorite episode of the season as The Constant was. I think that's a toss-up between Jughead and, curiously enough, LaFleur; Sawyer episodes usually aren't that high up in the ranking for me, but I really loved that one. And of course, there are still two episodes to go. But the more I contemplate this episode, the more I like it, even as it makes me terribly sad. Daniel, you will be sorely missed.