'Lost': Fate versus free will, revisited

jeremydavies_lost_290.jpgI want to return to one of the biggest topics of " Lost" today: fate versus free will. I wanted to address this earlier in the week, but my review of the Season 5 Blu-Ray set got in the way. I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those pesky release dates!

The discussion of fate versus free will was reignited here on the blog on Sunday when I posted my thoughts on the Spanish promo courtesy of the television station Cuatro. According to the poll I placed at the bottom of the recap, it seemed a majority of you had my opinion about it: namely, it worked in terms of its creativity, not its interpretation of the show. But a non-sizeable majority thought it worked on both levels, and in many ways, I was responding to those people more than the promo itself.

After all, my entry was born from the seemingly universal praise heaped upon the promo by the online "Lost" community. While I didn't exactly scour far and wide, I literally could not find one person that had anything bad to say about it. On top of that, I found almost no critical analysis of the promo: everything was essentially an instantaneous, emotional reaction to a non-canon piece of promotional material. I, too, had an initially euphoric reaction to it. But by the third viewing, something didn't sit right. By the fifth, I was stone-faced. By the seventh, I was downright antsy.

To me, the promo works wonderfully as a Rorschach test for "Lost" fans. While I would never say there's a "wrong" or "right" way to respond to the Cuatro promo, I think one's reaction to it says a lot about about his/her attitudes towards the show. For those content to passively watch the show without delving too deeply into it, that promo would have thrilled them. For those that believe in destiny's invisible hand guiding these characters towards their inevitable end, that promo would also have thrilled them. For those that believe in free will shaping the events of the show, that promo would have made them slam their heads against a desk until they bled like Charlotte after a time flash.

Again: I'm not decrying Cuatro's interpretation of the show. I'm merely gauging the reaction to it and trying to understand the two camps' perspective. After all, I know why I didn't like it. My initial entry on the subject lays it all out there for your consumption. What I want to know is why a certain sect of "Lost" fans are happy with the idea that the players in this particular drama are attached to invisible strings, helpless in the face of larger forces to make any meaningful choice whatsoever. Maybe that's a crude formulation of this perspective, but it's essentially accurate nonetheless. And I am not asking that question derisively. I really am genuinely curious.

Now, the show has toyed with both sides of this coin since Day One. Crashing these characters down on the Island with no understanding of their place in this seemingly endless War of the Island has allowed the show to express a variety of subtle philosophical and religious perspectives that analyze the potential meaning of the events on the show. You can look at Desmond's failure to push the button in a timely manner as Oceanic 815 flew nearby as either fated to always happen, or simply the sum total of a series of events that ended in that failure. Both broadly describe Desmond's tardiness as ever always occurring. But the former perspective implies that nothing else could have happened, no matter what. The latter implies that nothing else could have happened, but only due to the series of choices that resulted in an ever-narrowing path that ultimately led Desmond to follow Kelvin out of the Swan on that particular day.

On some grand level, yes, it's silly to argue the difference between these two vantage points on a PIECE OF SCRIPTED FICTION. I understand the irony. Everything that happens on "Lost" happens due to a writer putting words onto paper. But that being said, "Lost" actively wants us to question the tension between fate and free will in terms of the ultimate endgame of the show. Whereas The Man in Black believes change is impossible, Jacob believes that choice is always present. The question "Lost" fans have to ask is the same one that its characters constantly confront: "Am I more comfortable believing that a higher power is guiding me, or am I more comfortable knowing I alone have the power to make something happen?"

I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I'm going to table it until next time. For now, I want to here from people on both sides of the aisle: Team Fate and Team Free Will, explain your preferences in the comments below!  And leave suggestions for characters you'd like to see me put through both perspectives in order to gain insight into their arcs.



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Photo credit: ABC