Fixing a Hole

Okay. I’ve been working on a theory for a while now about the alternate timeline on Lost. At heart it’s not all that complicated (really), but I had written it up as part of a post on other general musings that in typical fashion for me keeps getting longer and revised and left fallow and revised again thanks to my intermittent concentration as
the show keeps marching on.

White flash over faint image of hand on bomb wiring
Screencap © 2010 ABC Studios.

The gist of things is that the apparent flashes to a new reality we’ve been seeing are
not actually flashing sideways — or diagonally, i.e. one universe over plus several years back — but rather flashing back to the selfsame universe where all the events we’ve seen to date have taken place. It’s just that in the wake of “The Incident” there’s been some very considerable course-correction.

I recall hearing at Nik at Nite that in an interview or podcast, around the time of Desmond’s head trip in Season 3’s “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and his subsequent attempts to save Charlie’s life based on visions of his death, the producers said there was only one timeline on Lost. When Mrs. Hawking appeared to Desmond during that episode’s funky flashback narrative, she explained that the universe had a way of course-correcting to what should happen, a nice way of allowing for both free will and destiny. This was illustrated by Charlie ultimately dying no matter what Desmond did, although there’s also a convincing argument to be made that Desmond’s actions in warding Charlie away from the previous would-be deaths course-corrected Charlie’s path not to a substitute death but to the one he was “supposed” to have; we’ll never know, presumably, who’d have performed Charlie’s actions at the Looking-Glass station and died his heroic if somewhat senseless death had Charlie died earlier in the jungle
or in the ocean or at Claire’s tent.

But if the universe course-corrects, and there’s a general scheme to how things should go, it stands to reason that all of this has happened before — perhaps is all happening at the same time. That isn’t to say that events are predestined, exactly, that a creator (be it God or an extradimensional alien toddler) has mapped things out for the inhabitants of Lost’s universe. Maybe it did all happen for the first time, once, either in chronological progression or all called into being simultaneously by some outside force, then as people exerted their free will little squiggles of reality kept shifting and reordering all over the place so that the timeline could remain consistent to itself.

This is where the infamous “mysterious napkin... of mystery” comes in, by the way,
for those of you following the saga of the Nik at Nite meetup last Friday. Actually, it doesn’t quite come yet, since I haven’t gotten to Juliet and the bomb here, but I used it as a prop for the totality of known existence, with the beginning of time at one end and the end of time (if there is such a thing) at the other, illustrating how something at Point A [makes a circle on a line drawn down the middle of the napkin] affects something at Point B [makes circle farther up the line] even if previous occurrences
at Point A meant that events at Point B had heretofore gone a little differently. Just
you wait ’til I get to Point -A.

We know that certain people, special people like Desmond, are more able to affect
the timeline in broader strokes than others or at least to perceive changes in it. I’m not sure, as I said in my episode analysis of “Happily Ever After”, whether Desmond could survive the Swan/Hatch’s and later Charles Widmore’s bombardment of electromagnetic fields because he was already special or whether he survived the detonation of the EM lode at the Swan because the Island wasn’t done with him and
the blast made him special(er).

Some folks wondered if in “Flashes Before Your Eyes” Desmond was mentally transported to an alternate timeline, since he recognized differences with his remembered past — meeting Eloise Hawking among them. The producers and Mrs. Hawking said that this was not the case, that Desmond relived his actual life and made whatever changes he did make because he was a purposeful actor, with the universe course-correcting to allow for the changes and none of them being overwhelming to the timeline as we knew it. Could his consciousness have traveled back in time from Widmore’s EM chamber on the Island in 2007 to the one, singular 2004, now indeed seriously rewritten, rather than to an alternate 2004?

I think it could have. I think that we might be dealing not with an alternate universe but with an altered universe.

Before the Season 6 premiere, in my first ‘Lost’ in Thought post, I opined that after
Lost had taken us across the length and breadth of the Island, then underneath it, then next to it, then off of it, and finally (even moreso than via the flashbacks and flashforwards) through the dimension of time in Season 5, the only place to go was into yet another dimension in the form an alternate universe or universes. And the premiere did indeed seem to prove me right, which thrilled me less for the sake of being right than because it was just a nifty idea to pursue. How many alternate universes we would see and for how long, I didn’t know, but I really liked the concept inherently and as a logical continuation of the expansion of Lost’s playing field thus far.

The more we saw of the so-called sideways universe, though, the more I realized that
it was hard to reconcile with the results of the Season 5 finale “The Incident”, wherein Juliet struck the core of the hydrogen bomb known as Jughead against some rocks at the bottom of a pit, sending the screen white and silent. My first theories, as related in my belated look at “LA X”, the Season 6 premiere, were that the explosion of the bomb coupled with the energy of the nearby EM lode — likely assisted by the Island or Jacob — either created an alternate timeline by ripping open the very fabric of reality or had its energy shunted through dimensional walls to a pre-existing alternate universe whose own Island, rather than the Island of the universe in which the detonation occurred, was destabilized and ultimately destroyed. But there were soon suggestions that the new timeline differed from the so-called original one before 1977.

The familiar timeline being unaffected, at least within the confines of the Island and
for those on it, was obvious — save for the sudden transportation of Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, Miles, Jin, Sayid, and the dying Juliet from 1977 back to 2007 (later than the 2004 that the group who spent three years in the past left from, and possibly a mite earlier than the late 2007 or early 2008 from which the rest flashed off of the Ajira flight before it landed on Hydra in the same 2007 time period to which the time-tossed group returned after the detonation). So the explosion had to have done something somewhere, especially given Juliet’s final thoughts: “It worked.” What if it didn’t only work for unsuspecting parallel-reality versions of our heroes? What if it affected the actual pasts of the actual characters we knew, except that instead of vanishing the extant versions of the characters who perpetrated this massive course-correction were left behind, like physical specters, either because the Island prevented them from disappearing or because the changes to the timeline simply haven’t quite caught up
to 2007 yet?

Now we’re back to the napkin and what happens when things aren’t quite so simple
as events at Point A changing later events at Point B. It could well be that the original Incident referred to by Dr. Chang (or more properly the Incident of the timeline as it stood when the series began, since we can’t know how many times the timeline’s been written over and how many permutations the Incident has gone through, big or small) was the result of a relatively minor nick in the EM lode — it may have caused deaths and necessitated the button setup in the Swan station, but it didn’t knock the Island off-kilter. Once Juliet detonated Jughead, though, either the Island lost its mojo and began to sink, forcing the universe’s course-correction into overdrive, or an alternate universe was indeed created and/or affected as per my earlier theory and just enough damage was done in the familiar universe to keep things familiar.

If my current theory is correct then, due to Juliet and the gang being time-travelers whose existence in 1977 is predicated on them not doing what they did in 1977, the bomb going off at Point A and screwing up the Island would change not only everything after that point but certain events before that point, such as Point -A (read Point Minus A, some point shortly before Point A) and even change Point A itself. This is hardly a new concept in science fiction, but in the admittedly tight circles I travel when it comes to Lost commentary I haven’t seen the alternate/altered timeline discussed this way.

For the purposes of most of my explanation about how and why the new timeline
would differ before the Jughead detonation in 1977, I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether the timeline is next door to the original or replacing it, although if the next-door universe didn’t predate the explosion as essentially a parallel replica of the familiar one then things didn’t change there so much as they were created the way they stand.

We’ve seen the Island in pieces at the bottom of the ocean with Oceanic 815 passing above it in “LA X”, but we’ve also seen Ben and Roger Linus musing about life if they’d stayed on the Island in “Dr. Linus”, so presumably the Jughead explosion destabilized the Island without immediately destroying it, allowing at least some members of Dharma to evacuate — including the Linuses, Dr. Chang, and the infant Miles. I realize that Ben had already been shot by Sayid and saved in the Temple when Jughead went off, with Pierre Chang and Roger Linus in bad shape too, and the altered timeline doesn’t seem to reflect those events; there’s a reason for that, and it’s the course-correction. With the Island down, Desmond never landed there, Juliet was never brought to it by Ben’s Others, 815 never crashed, and Widmore’s Freighter Folk never showed up there, so all of the time-tossed characters would never have ended up in 1977 to, um, prevent their being there. And that means, pretty much as soon as Juliet caused this exponentially greater iteration of the Incident, it was not Juliet who caused it as she wrote herself out of that scene and the universe had to maneuver another catalyst into her place. So the Incident then occurring substantially as we saw it, at least to the extent that it was still big enough to bring the Island down (in contrast to the more familiar Incident that led to the button-pushing), but without the time-traveling group, Ben would not have been shot by Sayid, Roger would probably not have been roped into a gunfight, and so forth; indeed, things would have differed at least as far back as the 1974 arrival of Juliet, Sawyer, Miles, Jin, and Daniel, which is [circles the line on the napkin again] Point -A to the 1977 Incident’s Point A, and with the universe reordering itself to remain internally consistent there would likely be changes before that, at Point -B and earlier at Point -C so on. Richard, for instance, might have never met with a young John Locke, not only because we don’t know if Richard made it off the Island in 1977 but because there’d have been no time-traveling John Locke to intrigue Richard into visiting his younger self.

I hardly consider myself possessed of esoteric computer knowledge, but I’m aware
that if you’ve deleted a file then a new one may write over the disk space previously used for that deleted file. This definitely holds true when you’re erasing and reformatting a disk. So my analogy when I began writing this, and it got used Friday night, was of new events literally writing over older ones with skipping around to find available disk space akin to the universe nipping and tucking events so that logical continuity is preserved up and down the timeline. You can even think of course-correction as defragmenting your hard drive, resolving data into those nice solid colors I used to see in Norton Utilities so that everything runs more smoothly. Do you suppose the original timeline is “backed up” somewhere and could be restored?

The big question if the above holds true is why we haven’t seen the changes to the timeline reflected on the Island in 2007. I have competing theories about this, actually. One is that the universe doesn’t course-correct everything simultaneously, and that the changes to the past are sweeping forward; they’ve clearly impacted 2004, as we’re seeing in this season’s flashbacks to the new version of that time period — so they’re moving pretty quickly — but they haven’t yet reached 2007. DC Comics used a similar explanation in the wake of its continuity-altering miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths in acknowledging that some characters’ histories were slower to be revised than others. The second explanation, as touched upon earlier, is that the Island’s power is so great or cosmic that even though it was physically destroyed in the new timeline it has protected itself and the people on it from the effects of this massive course-correction, keeping the live characters from being absorbed into their new selves just as it keeps certain of the dead from moving on to another place; for this explanation to work, everyone on Widmore’s sub would have had to be in the sphere of influence of the Island when Jughead went off, since all of the outside world would have changed instantly, past, present, and future.

You might wonder where Jacob and the Man in Black fit into all of this. I considered that they may be the only survivors of their own previous timeline, which is the home the Man in Black so desperately longs for, but honestly that part’s far from worked out. More interesting to me is why the Island or the universe itself didn’t prevent Juliet from detonating Jughead, as that would’ve been far easier than the massive course-correction that had to happen as a result. Perhaps this new timeline we’re seeing is really preferred in some karmic or fateful way.

Lost airs in less than 90 minutes, and it’s entirely possible that all of this will be, well, blown to bits by tonight’s episode, but I sure thank you for reading.

Previously: Carry That Weight / Next: Birthday
Related: Any Time at All
Soup and Sociability Got to Get You into My Life


  1. new events literally writing over older ones, with skipping around to find available disk space somewhat akin to the universe nipping and tucking events so that logical continuity is preserved up and down the timeline.


    Yeah...I'm going to need a napkin visual :)

    extradimensional alien toddler

    Haha! Did you read Under the Dome?

    This was well written and interesting piece, Blam Sandwich. I am surprised to say that about something you have done


  2. I suck at comments today (yes, today only, Blam-O), please insert the 'a' appropriately in my last comment.


  3. I am surprised to say that about something you have done

    Phoque You, Penguin!

  4. This was good, but it was so much more epic in person. Seriously. My brain started leaking out of my ear :)


  5. E.T. Phone Joan: Did you read Under the Dome?

    No. I got the "extradimensional alien toddler" thing from some Outer Limits or Twilight Zone episode or some such thing (I think).

    SMIERT: This was good, but it was so much more epic in person.

    Y'know, I considered driving four-plus hours in the car, starving myself for company and food, dimming the lights, putting on organ music, and explaining it all excitedly without notes (save for pen and napkin), but I had a lot of the post already written, I'm not sure my webcam does video, and, let's face it, lightning doesn't strike twice.

  6. "It only ends once."

    Up late after a tough night with sick kids and just saw tonight's Lost... I didn't realize that your post didn't reflect tonight's episode, but still, (1) awesome episode and (2) awesome theory that (3) totally could still work except for the postscript about Jacob & Esau (and even that's not necessarily invalidated).

    Ya blew my mind, Blam, especially:

    Do you suppose the original timeline is "backed up" somewhere and could be restored?


    Verification: intin — Where the cookies are? French comics hero missing his T? Where Tony Stark feels safest?

  7. I just stalked on by and wasn't going to leave a comment - until I got this

    VW: Honan

    This is the sad tale of what happened to Conan the Barbarian after the skin sagged, the muscle softened and the world was done with him. He still to this day waves his sword around but now it is a sad and sordid thing.

  8. Wow. Fantastic theory, Blam. I love the concept that the altered timeline exists in this dimension, and that maybe it's going to catch up to the present (whenever that is). And in light of last night's episode (Life, Death, Rebirth, and so on), perhaps the timeline has suffered a 'rebirth'. Also, like Arben, I love the 'reality backup' concept as well. Really excellent work, Blam. Thanks for sharing the theory!

  9. If this isn't the "real" answer, I will always pretend it is, because it is just that epic. And I understand it. Most of the time.

    Thanks for putting this up! :D I enjoyed closing my eyes and imagining The Napkin.


  10. 佳喬: 與人相處不妨多用眼睛說話,多用嘴巴思考

    I think he's talking to you, Orange Traffic Joan.

    Thanks for the kind comments, everybody else!

  11. Blam! I thought you were serious! Gah!

    HAhaha! Each little dot there goes to a different site. One said "Youbube". *snicker*

    "Is together might as well the multipurpose eye with the human to speak, multipurpose mouth ponder"

    Mmm, yes, 'multipurpose mouth ponder' has always been my favorite phrase...


  12. "Is together might as well the multipurpose eye with the human to speak, multipurpose mouth ponder"

    That's what Yahoo's Babel Fish gives you. Google Translate has this:

    "Get along with others may wish to talk more with your eyes, think more with his mouth."

    Do you suppose that last part has to do with eating brains?


  13. PS: Do not click our Chinese friend's ellipses, folks! At least don't click on 'em in a public place and without Private Browsing turned on (or whatever the non-Safari equivalent is that doesn't add sites to your history); even then, you probably don't want to go there. I usually delete this spam, but not always, and last time I left one up Mrs. Crawford expressed her delight with my international audience; I should have known better than to make the above remark, because she can't help poking things that intrigue her.

  14. ...because she can't help poking things that intrigue her.

    Which can make for some really awkward situations, as Blam-Bake can attest.

    wish to talk more with your eyes, think more with his mouth

    I'm pretty sure they are talking about zombies and so I am put-off by the sexy-time stuff. We're dealing with zombies! Focus, this sort of ninnery will get you killed! And if there's anything you can get from Internet porn, it's good eye contact for that soulful connection, "Hey, she really likes me, look at us wish to talk more with our eyes!"

  15. You know, I thought you had a lost me (pun intended) for a bit in the middle there, but by the end, I was fully on board with what you're saying.

    Fascinating stuff, and I particularly like the way this explanation for the sideways world uses previously established knowledge (Desmond and course correcting).

    The idea that course-correcting worked itself backwards as well as forwards is probably the best explanation I've read for the pre-1977 deviation in the sideways timeline.