In this week’s edition of "Theory Thursday", I want to take a look at the Freighters, those folks offshore in the yet-to-be-seen ship described by Naomi. Much of Season 4 of Lost will concern these people, their motivations, and most of all, their identity. By "identity" I don’t mean names, but rather purpose: what is the "primary objective" alluded to in the extended trailer for Season 4? This is simply another way of asking, "Who are these people?"
To answer this, we’re going to look at a few decades worth of history here, in order to figure out how one afternoon on the Island led to the events seen in "Through the Looking Glass." I want to examine how one singular event set in motion of chain of events that led to a freighter sitting off the coast of the Island. I wanted to look at this because the nickname "Freighters" hasn’t been sitting too well with me. Just doesn’t have the ring of "The Others" or "The Lostaways." So let’s just call these people who they are:
The second coming of the Dharma Initiative.
Now, Dharma2 (as I’ll refer to it from now on) has its roots in the aftermath of the Purge, in which the remnants of the Dharma Initiative were wiped out by the Ben Linus-led Hostiles. The Others, as we now know them, took over in the aftermath of the "incident" described in the Swan Orientation video. I say this because it’s my assertion that the "incident" in question split a psychically gifted man into two entities: a black smoke monster and a barely corporeal old man in a cabin named Jacob, protected by a ring of grey powder to ensure the two halves can never reconnect. The sonic fence was built as a direct result of this incident, ensuring that the Dharma Initiative could perform its work without the worry of constant attack.
In the aftermath of this Purge, Ben Linus used the resources of the Hanso Foundation to further his own goals. Those goals may have initially been as simple as a utopian lifestyle with the Hostiles and Annie, his lifelong friend and perhaps eventual wife. But those goals were destroyed by the inability of women to procreate on the Island, forcing Ben’s hand and making him procure people from around the world (via the Galaga) in order to make his dream a reality.
Meanwhile, off the Island, the Hanso Foundation sat defeated, unable to make contact with their staff. Internally, there must have been talk about how to reclaim the project, with various parties putting forth increasingly disturbing ways of conquering the Valenzetti Equation. Remember: the initial Dharma Initiative was conceived from the Flower Power generation. By the time of the Purge, the world had moved on, and the utopian ideals of the 60s had given way to the corporate greed and cynicism of the 80’s/90’s. Into this world enters three men: Thomas Mittlewerk, Charles Widmore, and Mr. Paik.
Mittlewerk worked within the Hanso Foundation, Widmore is the CEO of the self-titled Widmore Corporation, and Paik named Paik Heavy Industries after himself. In "The Lost Experience," all three men work together in concert towards the production of a large vessel named the Helgus Antonius. While Paik’s company builds the ship, Mittlewerk investigates shipping routes: the very same ones used by Alvar Hanso’s ancestor Magnus Hanso navigated using, you guessed it, the Black Rock. Both of these men have heavy ties with Charles Widmore, whose company seems awfully invested in the Island. One only needs to look at the painting in his office to see just how intimately familiar he is with the Island’s various novelties. (In addition, the balloon upon which Henry Gale crash-landed? Constructed by the Widmore Corporation.)
According to "The Lost Experience," Alvar Hanso was imprisoned in his own house by Mittlewerk, while Thomas and others within the Hanso Foundation instituted a plan called the "Spider Protocol." The Protocol was the brainchild of Mittlewerk’s, devised using the results of innumerable iterations of the Valenzetti Equation run by autistic savants in the Vik Institute. This Protocol was essentially a way to solve the Valenzetti Equation without the use of the Foundation’s greatest resource: the Island itself. The Purge sent the Hanso Foundation and its associates down a path from global benevolence to an "at any cost necessary" path. The cost of the Spider Protocol? 30% of the world’s population, to be wiped out with a virus that was engineered by the Foundation to be delivered to "precise genetic targets."
If you read the in-game memo from Mittlewerk, however, finding a proper place for testing proved difficult. While Mittlewerk’s methods were morally murky, he did not seem to wish to enact mass genocide. As such, he eventually falls back to the Island itself as a place to test the validity of the Spider Protocol. If you look at the blueprints to the Helgus, you’ll see various areas marked "QUARANTINE," which should remind all of you of similar signs within the doors to all of the hatches on the Island. Thus, armed with Magnus Hanso’s routes, a specially built ship, and those loyal to defeating the Valenzetti Equation at all cost, Dharma2 set off for the Island.
However, simply having the routes, the ship, and the loyal crew was not enough. The key to locating the Island lay in actually manufacturing a way to get key people onto the Island beforehand in order to somehow give away the Island’s location. After all, were it as simple as sending in an army to retake the Island, the Hanso Foundation (with or without Hanso’s approval) would have done so before the crash landing of Oceanic 815. Thus, Charles Widmore contributed one more important piece of the puzzle after the commissioning of the Helgus Antonius: Desmond Hume. Using Libby as a resource, he constructed a scenario in which Desmond would be caught in a storm that could bring him to the Island. Why? Because Ms. Hawking, another associate of the Widmore Corporation, saw Desmond’s destiny. And that destiny was not to save the world, but to turn the sky purple and make the Island visible.
It’s no coincidence, I think, that Naomi arrived so soon after the failsafe key was used by Desmond. Just as Penelope’s group identified the location as soon as it happened, so did those aboard the Helgus. Thing is, however, that the Helgus was well-positioned to act quickly upon that information (thanks to Magnus’ notes). However, while the purple sky rendered the Island more visible, it’s unlikely it rendered the Island more accessible. Even with the Helgus knowing the basic location of the Island, they still couldn’t "see" it, per se. As such, Naomi’s mission was a suicide one: a one-way ticket whose sole purpose was to pinpoint the exact location of the Island for those on the freighter. In the decades since the Purge, the Hanso Foundation and Widmore Corporation worked together to develop technologies to counter the unique properties of the Island. Naomi’s phone was one byproduct of that research, the Helgus is the other, and perhaps the helicopters seen in the Season 4 trailer are another.
Now, what is Dharma2’s purpose? Is it to simply restart the projects left abandoned after the Purge? Doubtful. Remember: Dharma1 came after the Woodstock generation; Dharma2 came after the Gordon Gecko generation. Implementation of the Spider Protocol seems the likely goal, which could explain why Ben baldly states that every person on the Island is about to die, and why Locke takes the majority of the Lostaways into hiding. Rather than use the hatches, Dharma2 will essentially kick-start evolution, deciding for itself who is the fittest.
Now, there’s one other major component to this that I’ve left out until now, because while all of this is supposition, I feel pretty good about its veracity. The following I’m less sure about, but it’s so intriguing to me that I’m going to throw it out here anyways. Ben sure seems to know a lot about those on the freighter. Indeed, a lot of his actions in Season 3 seem geared towards ensuring they do NOT make it on the Island under any circumstance.
But think back to the end of Season 2, and his conversation with Michael on the Pala Ferry pier:
Ben: "Do you know how to drive a boat?"
Michael: "Yeah, I can drive a boat."
Ben: "Good, ’cause you’re gonna take this boat and follow a compass bearing of 325 and if you do that exactly, you and your son will find rescue."
Michael: "Well that’s it, I follow the bearing and me and my son get rescued?"
So we always assumed "325" is the only direction one could use to escape the "snow globe" that is the Island, but what if "325" actually directed Michael and Walt to the Helgus Antonius? What if Ben, via Mikhail, had been monitoring local activity via The Flame, knew the Antonius was sitting out there looking for them, and thus sent Michael and Walt directly into their path?
If so, the big question is, "WHY?" I mean, why send two people from the Island directly to the boat, all but announcing the existence of an Island nearby to people looking to potentially kill them? I think the answer is in two parts. One: Ben incorrectly assumes Michael can never return to the Island: with control over the submarine and the Looking Glass station, Ben believes himself to control the only ways to and from the Island. Secondly, I think he also believes an investigation into Walt by Dharma2 will excite them enough that they will abandon hope of reclaiming the Island and simply use Walt to further their agenda. If this is all true, then Mikhail’s statement to Ben that Naomi had parachuted on the Island could still shock him, as he figured he’d saved them all from the eyes of Dharma2. (I’m sure he also didn’t count on Walt being able to project himself off the Island onto the Island, as he did at the end of Season 3 to Locke.)
So now it’s your turn, fair readers: do you think the Freighters are Dharma2? If not, who are they, and what is their primary objective? Do you think Michael and Walt are on the freighter? Leave your thoughts below!
Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude.