Three cases studies of fate vs. free will in 'Lost'

daniel-dae-kim-lost-s6-320-2.jpgSo we've been looking primarily at fate versus free will this week on the " Lost" blog, and quite frankly, this topic won't even die even after the show ends next spring. It's one of the primary binaries in the show, alongside "light" and "dark", "science" and "faith," and of course, "tastes great" and "less filling."

As I've tried to demonstrate this week, how one applies an analysis of fate or free will to the actions of a character in the show bears a strong correlation to the personal outlook of the viewer. It's unfortunately not a matter of an either/or situation, in which one can confidently assess one of the two as being 100% correct. Let's look at seminal moments from some seminal characters to see what I mean.

Jin-Soo Kwon: At the end of Season 1, he tearfully declares, "I'm in this place because I'm being punished." In his viewpoint, his crashing on the Island derives from a moral judgment bestowed by the universe. If Jin knew about Desmond at this point, he would declare that Des' inability to press the button in time directly corresponded to Jin's treatment of Sun. However, in Season 5, he prevents Danielle Rousseau from entering The Temple in 1988.

Think about the insane domino effect that action has: she's not "infected," she kills her crew, gives birth to the girl that imbues Ben Linus with a modicum of decency, and then manages to change the outgoing recording on the Island from The Numbers to her distress signal. Was Jin's gesture towards Danielle dictated by fate, or simple human compassion? And what does it say about the success of Faraday's plan that Ajira 316 heard The Numbers broadcasting when crash-landing on the Hydra Island?

Michael Dawson: Unable to care for his son during his formative years, Michael finds himself reunited with Walt after his mother Susan's mysterious death. Forced to make up for lost time on the Island, the two bond, only to see that bond ripped apart by The Others' kidnapping. Forced into releasing Ben, Michael makes the conscious decision to kill Ana Lucia, which in turn leads to his accidental shooting of Libby. This frees Ben, and ultimately sends Michael and Walt off the Island. But off the Island, Michael tells Walt of his atrocities, which leads Walt to live with his grandmother.

In the ensuing grief, Michael tries to commit suicide, but finds himself unable to actually kill himself. Tom Friendly insists that it's because The Island isn't done with him, prompting Michael to board the Kahana and ensure that the boat never reaches the Island. However, in Michael's final moments, Cabin Christian appears to Michael just before the ship explodes. Since we have strong evidence that Cabin Christian isn't exactly one of the good guys, what does that say about Tom Friendly's interpretation of Michael's survival skills off the Island? And if The Man in Black could prevent Michael's death long enough to make sure The Oceanic 6 got off the Island, is that fate's hand staying Michael's execution, or a Loki-esque god's invisible hand pulling the strings?

Jack Shephard: For one hundred days, Jack fought tooth and nail to get the survivors of Oceanic 815 off the Island. Even in the face of increasing evidence that the "help" offshore wasn't as noble as they seemed, Jack pressed on. Even in the face of Locke's pleas, he pressed on. Even when his appendix burst mere days from his escape, he pressed on. Once back in the real world, he slowly realized that instead of fulfilling his purpose on the Island, he might have run away from it.

Much like Michael, Jack found himself curiously unable to commit suicide, thanks to a conveniently timed car crash on the bridge from which he planned to jump. Bearded, boozed, and bamboozled, he turned from a man of science into a man of inertia and finally into a man of faith as he attempted to get the band back together and return to the Island. While initially unsure of his purpose in 1977 Dharmaville, he finds hope in Daniel Faraday's plan to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Swan site and erase the last three years of misery, torment, and pain for the survivors. Did the same force that saved Michael's life off-Island also save Jack's? Was Jack's decision to fulfill Faraday's mission the ultimate act of self-determination, or merely the result of a man so broken down by fighting his fate that annihilation seemed like a happy alternative to his existence?

Obviously, you could apply this type of analysis to every major character on the show. None of these examples even touch upon their lives BEFORE arriving on the Island in September 2004, and clearly are wildly incomplete portraits of these individuals. I merely tried to show that it's difficult to obtain a consensus on "fate" or "free will" to the major milestones in these characters' lives. You know that old saying: you say "potato," I say "frozen donkey wheel."
To me, it's not enough to simply state, "These characters have a destiny." That's all well and good, until you ask the following question: "Why?" That is to say, why do these characters have to do...well, whatever it is they are supposed to do? Who or what gains from those actions? Why couldn't another member of the human race perform that specific task? In short: Why these people, and why these actions?

I'll look at some of the "why"s starting later this week, because that is really what Season 6 will be all about. We've spent five years getting deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the show. In delivering the answers to these riddles, hopefully the show will start peeling away the reasons these particular people were chosen to participate in Jacob's latest round of what he calls "progress." Your homework? Start brushing up on something called " the observer effect." You'll see why soon enough.

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Photo credit: ABC

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Lost Season 6 publicity photo gallery
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