“Hurley Wrote It”: The Sideways Mystery of Lost

.
.
.

The subtle but brilliant ending of LOST: Now you’ll be in the dark about it no longer!

This is being published on Sept. 5, 2021, simply so that I’ll still have a copy of this post, as many of its companion writings on Daily Kos (where I hosted “Lost Friday Night Discussions) have been reduced to non-retrievable bits in the cosmic blender.

It’s being dated, though, as of May 28, 2020 at 7:41 p.m.: 10 years to the minute after it was published on that site.

Anyway: this was my writing back in 2010; that was my handle; that was my logo, and this was one of my favorite posts when I was on Daily Kos, coming after 16 heady weekly Friday night discussions with my online friends about the show LOST.  (It has been slightly edited to remove typos and thinkos, and in a few cases to add clarity.)

LOST Friday Night Discussion #16 (with spoilers & closure)

 

Well, here we are: in the last LOST Friday Night Discussion.  The place that we set up together, while our life with the Island still existed, so that we could find each other and spend a little more time together, each arriving at our own time into the permanent timelessness of this location, after which we could move on together into life after LOST, what you might call our “after” life, with all of our friends who have meant so much to us….

OK, that does seem sort of weirdly implausible.

This Intro bloc links to the three other discussions that I follow on Lost: the great one at the Onion’s “AV Club”, the effusive Entertainment Weekly site, and Chadwick Matlin and angry peers at Slate.

If you have not yet watched the finale and still plan to jump off the cliff into the deep, remember that there are

SPOILERS BELOW

And while it’s probably unnecessary to say this, I’ll add one last time that there are

SPOILERS BELOW

The best long term plotted-out series with a bang-up finale that I can remember was Babylon 5, a series that left few if any important ends loose.  LOST didn’t do quite that well — I give the whole series a B+/A- — but it did a lot better than I would have expected.  I’m an apologist for this episode, despite its flaws, and so I’ll get right to apologizing.

The measure of a work of narrative art, many have said before me, is how much it induces you to think about it once it’s over.  By that measure, LOST is mostly a success: people are still thinking and talking and, I believe, making more and more sense out of it — or, in many cases, making their own individual senses out of it. Here’s my take on the finale (focusing mostly on the mysteries and on  some on the characters) — especially on what mysteries are and are not solved:

Key scenes:

(1) Sawyer and Juliet at the vending machine

This is the scene that moved me from tearing up a little to crying.  It was brilliant on every level.  This was the best “match” on the Island, even better than Desmond-Penny, and the scene and its revelations for the characters was perfectly acted.  It was brilliantly written, as the Big Reveal of “we could go Dutch” meant caught me completely by surprise with its rushed understatement despite the fact that I was waiting for it.  But all of that is not why it’s a key scene.

It’s a key scene because Juliet explained what the entire series was about.

The Bigger Reveal should not have been a shock, because we already went down this route before.  The Island is more than a “cork” (although it is that!); it is a kind of machine.  Sometimes machines break a little, become gunked up, get their components bent.  Remember the story of the time shifts?  They kept happening because the Frozen Donkey Wheel wasn’t operating quite correctly after Ben used it to move the Island, and Locke had to go fix it.  So too with the Heart of the Island.

As Juliet explained, to get the vending machine to work after it malfunctioned, you had to unplug it, let it settle for a while the electromagnetic energy cleared (like clearing the memory on an electronic household item), and then you could plug it back in and you got what you wanted — in this case, an Apollo Bar (and the love of your life.)

The Island had been fouled 2500 or so years previously by Jacob’s impetuously throwing MiB into the cave of Pleasant Light.  This created a problem known as Smokey.  To get the system working properly again, you have to unplug it — or, in this case, uncork it — let it settle a bit, and then put the plug/cork back in.

To me, this suggests that Jacob knew exactly what he was doing when he summoned the Islanders.  He wanted someone to solve the problem that he had created.  The key actor was Desmond, whose mutation allowed him to pull out the plug.  (Having a system where no normal person could do the emergency repairs seems like a design flaw to me, but maybe I’m just not thinking like a supernatural Hell-containing-apparatus designer.)  Jack’s being there to replace it?  Also important, but in a natural rather than a supernatural vein.

(2) Hurley and Ben

Hurley and Ben have two key scenes together, one in the Island universe and one in Sidewaysville.  The first is when Hurley becomes the new Guardian and Jack leaves.  I had half-expected Ben to steal the water out of Hurley’s hands and drink it himself to become the new Guardian — but he didn’t.  That itself was an important milestone in his character development.

Hurley then asked Ben what he should do with he new position (and power) and asked for Ben’s help.  Ben’s revelation was that the Rules were now Hurley’s to make — and we know that, if the Guardian wanted amazing (although not unlimited) supernatural powers, they were there to be had.  And what should Hurley do with this power?  Ben suggested: take care of people.  Do the job better than Jacob had done it.  So Hurley and Ben set to work.

Step one, I think many of us would like to believe, was sending Desmond off to be with Penny, but there would be many steps after that, and plenty of time to plan and to execute them.

The other scene — no less key — took place just outside the Ecumenical Church of the Impending Light.  Ben — who had just that day become enlightened, and just the previous day discovered that he had finally had the chance to have a loving relationship with a wonderful woman and to become a stepfather to his favorite student — decided that he wasn’t yet ready to go, that he had things to do.  Yeah, things like live the normal and wonderful life that others were able to live.  (People have wondered if Ben was somehow barred from the church, or afraid to go inside — no, he wasn’t.  He had a choice — and he was exercising it.  That’s why Daniel and the not-yet-enlightened Charlotte weren’t there either.)

But that wasn’t the most important part either.  The incredible part — perhaps the most telling lines in the show — was the interplay between Ben and Hurley, in which a serene and confident Hurley said that Ben had been a great #2 and a grateful and touched Ben said that Hurley had been a great #1.  We learned so much in those lines — that these two people had been a longstanding team, with Hurley calling the shots but Ben helping him immensely, and that this had probably gone on for years, decades, centuries, or more.

I think that people are still underestimating the implications of this.  So I’m going to pull out a small and silly scene from the distant past that now becomes key.

(3) Writing the movie that makes everyone happy

Remember the Miles episode, Some Like It Hoth, when Hurley, living back in 1977, said that he wanted to write “The Empire Strikes Back”?  Hurley has always had a peculiar role on the show — good-natured, normal guy, a big fanboy — and the altar ego of the writers.

Hurley is a creative sort, although not a genius artist by any means, who mostly just wants people to enjoy his work.  Hurley is a writer.  So, mostly alone on the Island, what does Hurley do with near-omnipotence and unlimited time?

He writes.  He constructs a story, many stories, a city full of stories where characters can live out their dreams and satisfy what hopes were not satisfied while they were alive.

The Sideways World was not “Purgatory” — did you see a lot of purging going on? — nor bleak Limbo.  It was a playground, an amusement park, one built around the theme of good times had together by those in a community.

With Ben’s help, over time, Hurley wrote it.  I’ll emphasize that:

Hurley wrote it.  Hurley wrote it.  Hurley wrote it.  Hurley wrote it.

Christian says that it’s something that they all created collectively, somehow, but that’s a far-fetched notion.  Christian doesn’t know everything about how the world works, no more so than Smokey understood how the Island worked (and the effect of a reboot.)  The owner’s manual to the Island has long been misplaced; the owner’s manual to the Sideways universe was never shipped.  The Sideways world isn’t something that “everyone” created; it’s something that Hurley created.

Hurley created a little temporary world — not Limbo, not Purgatory (for God’s sake!), but something like a playground or resort — where people could learn, enjoy, and grow — and choose to stay a little longer than the others, as did Ben, if they wished.  It was a benign version of The Matrix.  People found love; wishes were fulfilled.

Now here’s something that, if the writers were thinking along these lines, was extremely clever.  What — aside from the hints I note above — is the clue that Hurley created the Sideways world where he, Locke, Sayid, and Sawyer found love, where Claire and Juliet and ultimately even Ben found happiness?

I think that the answer is in exactly what some of us were complaining about for much of the season.  Every week, a different genre.  Cop show.  Romance.  Spy adventure.  Whoever scripted the Sideways world is a hack.  A sentimental hack.  And Hurley is a sentimental hack!

And that’s where we got the genre shows from the middle of the season.  Sawyer and Miles get their cop show.  Jin and Sun get their romance.  Locke gets to be with his wife, Sayid gets his action episode, Ben gets to be a scholar and decent guy, Jack gets his paternal bliss, and so on.  These were written — by Hurley, in my view — to give people the excitement and interest in their life that they wanted and needed.  They also served the interests of wish-fulfillment (Hurley wrote himself the part of the luckiest guy in the world) and expiation (Ben’s experience of “gassing” his father was in the service of keeping him alive rather than killing him.  One imagines that he and Ben wrote their own Sideways stories with exquisite care — and Ben’s obviously, was pretty open-ended.)  Hurley was also responsible — clumsy (though lovable!) hack writer that he is — for some of the more improbable “reversals” in the Sideways world — such as Ethan (who is not going to be invited to the party) showing up and being good to Claire while pregnant.  It takes a real sentimental shnook — someone who truly wants to warm the heart of someone who’s been hurt — to write something like that:  Hurley.  And isn’t it just like Hurley to create that immensely ecumenical church, where everyone can be happy together?

But at some point the playground closes and it’s time to go home.

There’s another implication to the notion of the Sideways Universe as something created by Hurley using his powers as Guardian: it undercuts the overtly religious, Carousel-like conclusion to the series, in which All Lostaways Go the Heaven.

Think about it: Hurley’s powers are limited.  Jacob could not prevent Richard from going to Hell, if he was bound there; he could only do something trivial, within this world, like granting him eternal life.  (Or what he thought was eternal, if he too didn’t understand the process of rebooting.)  In other words: Hurley had the power to create an anteroom to the afterlife, but not what came after that.  What he created was the most wonderful way to ease people into the next life, but when they went into the light, we don’t know what happened to them.  Even Hurley could not know what would happen next.  Like the operation of the Heart of the Island, that was above his pay grade.

With that in mind, I’m prepared to try to write a Brief Explanation of the Island.

Solving the mysteries

There are rules and there are Rules and there are RULES.  We can only see the last of these — the cosmic rules guiding those who build the heart of the Island and whose consciousness is beyond our imagining — through a glass darkly.  What do we know of the true demigods (or perhaps not so demi) that we meet through the Island?

Well, the Island is, in some sense, a machine that regulates some point of contact between something below (Hell?  A boiler room?  It’s certainly orange and letting it into the “real world” causes trouble) and the surface of the Earth, which were separated by a joyous light that seemed to be connected with souls.  The entities who created it imbued it with some RULES:

= there was a position called “The Guardian” in which, when one assumed that mantle, one was given largely omnipotent powers over the domain of the surface of the earth, including the power to cheat and to persist past Death, and one could pass on those powers to a new Guardian

= if a human body entered the Sanctum Sanctorum, it would muck up the system and get expelled.  Under certain circumstances, it would unleash some bad force that took the form of Black smoke (perhaps mixed with, perhaps simply bound to effectuate the desires of, that person’s soul) and that also had some ferocious but ultimately limited power (coupled with a lack of understanding of all of the RULES.)  Among the effects of such befouling was that the souls of those who died on or near the Island could not move on to the afterlife, whatever that may be.

= in the event of befouling of the system, someone had to reboot it by removing the stopper (or “cork”) separating the inner and surface world and then replacing it.  If the cork was left open too long, however, the system had a fail-safe that would ensure that the Island housing it was destroyed and the contact point between Earth and Hell would be impassible.  Opening the cork, among other things, suspended any magic imposed by the previous Guardian; at that point, normal rules would apply until the Guardian made new Rules.  (By the way, Jack either didn’t understand how to make the Rules or didn’t get a chance, otherwise he could probably have turned now-mortal Smokey into a cockroach and imprisoned him in a peanut shell.)

= one Guardian could not be allowed to die until a new Guardian had been initiated.

= to effectuate either its own survival or the plan of the Guardian, the Island had the ability to go to extraordinary measures — bending time, causing fuses to burn out, preventing people from being killed, etc.  (The last one may be a Rule rather than a RULE.)  Whether moving the Island is a feature created by Them That Created It (for whatever purpose) or by Jacob himself is an open question — but it seems likely to be the former.

I’m sure that there are others to be named, but I can’t think of what other powers likely belonged to the Island specifically.  As I said above, the Instructional Manual to the Island has been LOST, and knowledge about it is passed on from person to person, over generations, like any culturally transmitted understanding.

Personally, I do believe that the Island had the power to create its own physical manifestation separate from the Guardian, and that in our series that manifestation was in the form of Christian Shepherd.  (That doesn’t mean that Smokey or Jacob couldn’t do it too, it simply means that sometimes — bidding Michael leave on the freighter Kahana, and perhaps in that final scene as well, the Island interacted directly with humans without the need for an intermediary.)

So much for the RULES.  We next consider the “Rules,” which are set forth (and amendable) by the Guardian of the Island.  These include such things and who can and cannot kill whom (unless that was a bluff — and probably wasn’t) and with what (like that ceremonial knife) and when (before they speak) and various special rules about the magic power of ashes and operations of magic pools of water (murky or otherwise.)  The Rules included the controlling of Fate — like, ensuring that certain numbers won the lottery and would recur in people’s lives.  A lot of what we’ve attributed to “the Island” has really been attributable to Jacob alone, based on the rules that he (and his foster Mother — because there hadn’t yet been a reboot) had made.

Beyond that are the “rules” — agreements that are used to organize our individual and collective interpersonal interactions.  One open question, for example (as someone noted in the past month somewhere on the Web) is whether Ben’s inability to kill Charles was a Rule or a rule.  It was surely not a RULE.

So to return to the Sideways Universe, people have been thinking that it was governed by RULES — or at least by Jacob’s Rules, which until recently we did not distinguish from the most fundamental RULES.  It was neither of those.  It operated according to Hurley’s Rules, including controlling people’s direction in the before-afterlife (including that of Hurley and Ben) of the Sideways Universe, in which the “bleedthroughs” between that construct and the previous “real world” were hints that would ultimately lead to moments of satori — “enlightenment” or “understanding.”  The Sideways World took them for as far as the Rules would allow, to the point where they would exit the Church and enter the light, to the point at which the RULES (whether built by gods or extraterrestrials — and not necessarily any different from those that any of us will experience upon our deaths, be they Heaven, Hell, something in between, Reincarnation, or Oblivion) took over.

I think that it’s time for a history of the Island (and its most famous inhabitants.)

A Brief History of the Island

The Island was built eons ago for some unknown cosmic purpose, operating under RULES that had already been partially forgotten by the time that Mother Eve took up the mantle of Guardian.  She would eventually take the twin children of a Roman woman (apparently from what would eventually be Iberia) after killing her, raising them as her own.  Jacob would eventually become the new Guardian; MiB would kill his foster Mom; and Jacob would float MiB to a Fate Worst Than Death, implicitly ignoring his mother’s warnings, and thus create the Smoke Monster.

One thing that Guardian can do is to draw people to the Island, but clearly at some point, at least — when the Island was in the Mediterranean, like Atlantis or Lemuria? — people could visit it in the normal course of affairs as well.  (At some point, the Egyptians evidently did — and Jacob apparently liked what they were bringing.)  Anyway, Jacob and MiB spent most of the recorded history of civilization playing with each other (benevolently and maliciously, respectively, but that was perhaps only the malice of the prisoner who longs to escape.)  Jacob accepted Richard as his #2, and to various degrees they helped to shape the cultures that followed Richard’s arrival.

The people whom Jacob allowed to find the Island (because he could easily have warded them away had he felt like it) between 1867 and 1954 were guided by Richard and became known (to us, anyway) as The Others; the latter included Charles and Eloise (and later, following his “conversion,” Ben.)  By 1970 or so, the DHARMA Initiative scientists from Ann Arbor arrived, whose presence Jacob welcomed so much (for whatever reason and despite their enmity with Richard — or perhaps in passive-aggressive response to more than a century of dealing with Richard) that he even allowed them regular submarine travel and airdrops of food.  Someone discovered (or Jacob clued them in as to) how to contain Smokey.

Right around 1974 some new recruits came to DHARMAville from the future; when joined by other Oceanic survivors in 1977, they would eventually try to detonate a nuclear bomb to protect the Island from an anomaly that occurred during a drilling accident that hit a pocket of energy at the Swan site.  (This anomaly would eventually cause their plane crash.)  After the bomb did not go off when it fell into a hole, Juliet was dragged into the hole and tried to detonate the bomb with a rock.  By leveling a blow that would have detonated it, she “forced the Island’s hand” according to either the RULES or the Rules — as Jack would do years later when sitting with Richard Alpert in the Black Rock with a lit stick of dynamite that his presence caused not to explode — and the Island responded with a time shift, sending the time travelers back into their appropriate time in the future.  Reasonable people can disagree on whether the bomb exploded at the moment of the time shift or not; I say “no” and “it doesn’t much matter.”

Back in the Island’s past, the uneasy peace ended in 1992 the Others committed DHARMAcide, with the sole DHARMA survivor being the one who had been down the hatch pushing the button that would discharge the build-up of electromagnetic energy.  He was eventually joined — and replaced — by Desmond, whose running after him twelve years later as he tried to ditch his job led to the Incident that pulled Oceanic 815 out of the sky and brought the Candidates to the Island.

The Oceanic Survivors landed in two separate groups, not to be brought together for a while.  They encountered leftovers from the DHARMA occupation (like various stations, polar bears, recorded messages, food supplies, the Others, VW Vans, and eight-track tapes — one with a song asking the listener “tell me, how does the light shine in the halls of Shambala?”  (This would prove prophetic.)

After Charles Widmore’s mercenaries were discovered attacking the Island, former DHARMA boy and later Others leader Ben Linus went down to the Frozen Donkey Wheel and moved the Island to a new spot.  This somehow landed Ben in Tunisia, where he would interact with the few inhabitants who had been allowed to leave the Island on a boat belonging to Penny Widmore; there they concocted a story to explain their rescue.  Ben’s use of the Wheel created some problems, though, as it was pushed off its axis, leading various of the Oceanic crew and their associates to move through time.  This was rectified only when John Locke fixed the wheel and pushed it again, landing himself in Tunisia as well, where he was picked up by agents of Charles Widmore.  Ben would eventually kill Locke, interact with the other of the Oceanic Six, and return to the Island with them (at the behest of Eloise Hawking) and the corpse of John Locke.

Back on the Island, Smokey the Smoke Monster (an amalgam of the soul and/or consciousness of the Man in Black and something from the Cave of Pleasant Light) took Locke’s form, claiming to have been reanimated.  He manipulated Ben into killing Jacob.  This was but a temporary setback for Jacob, who could still appear to Hurley in ghostly form, and ultimately to the other candidates as well.  (Why was Jacob allowed to stay around, before going into the real afterlife, until he had inducted a new Candidate?  A noted above, that sounds like a RULE.)

Jacob induced the Candidates to stay safe from Smokey, to discover how he was able to see into their world — with Jack and Hurley both there to learn, recall — and finally to take over his task, before (according to some RULE or Rule) his time there ended when his ashes were fully consumed.  Desmond fulfilled his role of pulling the plug for the cosmic reboot, and was saved; Jack fulfilled his role of putting the plug back in so that the Cave of Pleasant Light could deliver its Apollo Bar.  Hurley wondered what to do as Guardian; Ben suggested that he write his own Rules and do what he did best: take care of people.

And so Hurley did just that.  He took care of his friends, deciding who would and would not be invited to the Final Party.  (Michael’s omission may be explained this way, as Hurley may not be entirely forgiving about his having shot Ana Lucia.)  He used his demigodly powers — and yes, folks, let’s accept that Hurley did enjoy such powers — to create his own fantasy world where his friends could get what they had lost in life or had been missing, where they could learn things, pass the time, enjoy, explore might-have-beens, and finally come together in the end — just before they meet their actual ends.

The Sideways world wasn’t created by the explosion of Jughead, but by the apotheosis of Hurley — who was indeed a great #1.

Conclusion

I’m tempted to explore the remaining mysteries, the contradictions, the plot holes — but there will be time for that.  (I’m not the only one among us who can post these diaries, after all; we are all Guardians of the collective experience we have shared.) But my sense is that while these principles do lead to a lot of ad hoc handwaving here and there — explaining away individual plot points by saying that that’s how the RULES of the Ancient and Unknown Ones, or the Rules of Jacob, or in the Sideways world the Rules of Hurley, happen to work.  That said, most everything in the show can be reasonably explained, without relying on a “St. Elsewhere autistic kid’s snow globe” resolution — the producers, by the way, have said that the number of footprints in the final title scene is not “part of the story,” so don’t sweat it — or on the final scene being definitive proof that they were all going to Heaven.  (Where were they going? Through a door, into the light, and thence beyond, perhaps in different directions, of which we might agree that no mortal may know for sure.)

LOST was about many things over the years, but in the end it was about how we explore the word for, and act upon, our beliefs about Ultimate Truth that have, to put it mildly, been badly garbled in translation.  Some Truths are unknowable, even to demigods like Smokey, and Sidekick Richard, who never expected mortality.  Some Truths we make up ourselves as we go.  We can be slaves to the fables about how our world works (as Dogen seems to have been until his death, and he seems to have been wrong about a lot), or we can treat our beliefs as more provisional, as things that we cannot truly know, as things that — as LOST illustrates — may well be arbitrary.  (Were the Numbers truly the constants in the Valenzetti Equation?  Or were they just compass points that Jacob happened to assign to different candidates in his lighthouse mirror?  I suspect that LOST‘s answer is that they were the latter.  But I so not know that.  Maybe some RULE made him assign those numbers to people?  Seems like a big waste of a RULE to me!)

LOST‘s message at the end — and I will defend this as being profound rather than puerile — is that even when Ultimate Truths are unknowable (even to the Assistant of a demigod, like Richard) we can still intuit that what is called for is human decency, love for one another.  In Hurley’s scripted world, Love was the happy ending to every melodrama.  I disdained that saccharine prospect in the middle of the season.  But LOST was ultimately not so much for about eros as agape: love for humanity.  Even when we don’t know or understand the RULES and the Rules — can’t understand the RULES and the Rules, in fact! — we can still follow our intuition that we should be each other’s keeper, and that we should live together so that we don’t die alone.

Now we do not fade to white, but we dissolve to comments.  Let’s have fun together one last time!

PREVIOUSLY ON LOST FRIDAY NIGHT DISCUSSION

Episodes #1#2#3#4,#5#6,#7,#8,#9#10#11#12#13#14 and #15plus East Coast Finale Liveblog and West Coast post-Finale wrap-up!

[Note: this series of diaries (there, posts here) first appeared on Daily Kos during 2010 and 2011; they included my quick take on that week’s episode, some theorizing, and some really fun discussion with other theorizers and and watchers in comments.  Some of the above links work, and are rendered in boldface; some do not, and are rendered in italics.  I’ve preserved this one here because I’m proud of it and I think that people who dig the series out of the archives and watch it may someday enjoy it.  Yes, I backdated it from August 31, 2021 to the day that I posted it on Daily  Kos; and, no, I did not see a white flash when I did so!]

There’s also an Epilogue: “The Man in Charge” which may be found at this link (or search for it yourself if it doesn’t work) or perhaps elsewhere on the web.

I may collect the weekly installments that survived into their own composite post, which (if I do) will be preserved (insofar as these things go), at a link here.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)