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“The Variable” is a landmark episode for Lost for far more reasons than the mere fact that it’s the 100th episode of the celebrated series. Once again, the writing team has hit us from out of nowhere with new revelations and, finally, the backstory of Daniel Faraday, the Island’s resident physicist and bundle of nervous energy, as was clearly telegraphed in the first few seconds of the episode when we finally get explicit confirmation that Eloise Hawking is indeed Faraday’s mother.

Continue reading for more yummy goodness in today’s episode, but I’m putting the break early; it’s heavily laden in spoilers.

When last we saw Faraday, he was with Sawyer & the Dharmaettes as they began integrating into Horace’s little utopia. No sign of him three 70s years later when Jack’s group appeared, and we finally found out where tonight; he was off at Dharma HQ in Ann Arbor doing research. Into relativistic physics, we can only suppose. Faraday rocks us with a stunning revelation; Jack, Hurley, Sayid and Kate are not supposed to be there. What they do does matter.

This flies in the face of everything we’ve heard before, what they’ve spent so many episodes drilling into us this season, such as in this classic clip; whatever happened, happened, though they don’t know exactly what happens, because they’re experiencing it for the first time. Now Faraday calls this into question, the kind of right cross that Lost is so fond of throwing us. It would be a revelation called into question by the episode before it even reached its conclusion. But let’s consider it for a moment.

According to the past of Lost, nothing the time-travellers do can change the future. With one exception; Desmond Hume. For some reason – whether it was his time-jump after turning the key back in season 2, or his experience on the freighter in which he found his constant, Penelope – Desmond can change the future. Faraday took advantage of this, telling Desmond in the button-pushing days to find Eloise when he got off-island. As a result of this, he was present when the Oceanic Six showed up at Eloise’s in 2008. According to Faraday’s rules, Desmond shouldn’t have been there. Now, it seemed to me he played little to no part in getting the O6 on the plane, but is it possible his mere presence is enough to make the O6 able to change the future, as well? There’s more to consider by the time we reach the end of the episode, so on we go.

The flashbacks to Faraday’s life off the island were relatively bereft of new details or revelations, other than his doomed research assistant was clearly much more than just that. Surprisingly – ahem – Eloise wasn’t a very tender mother. He was brilliant. Widmore backed him financially. What the flashbacks did was flesh out his character and make him more complete, of course prepping us for the brutal climax.

On the 1970s Island, the 815 survivors and time-travelling pals gather together and decide how and where they’re going to escape to. Faraday is seen in the sequence in the Orchid glimpsed in the very first episode of the season, where he then tries to convince Dr. Chang that Miles is his son, he’s from the future, and a major catastrophe is about to hit the island. Chang’s not buying it. In classic Lost fashion, our heroes divide into two opposed groups; those, headed by Sawyer, who are going to take off and set up camp at the old beach, and the small group including Jack and Faraday who goes off in search of the Others and the 1970s version of Eloise – but not before delivering his prophesied warning to a very young Charlotte about leaving the island.

There’s some gunplay with the true Dharma group, who catch Sawyer & Co. in the possession of a trussed-up busybody in the closet; next week to find out what happens. The Others-bound group gets away, and proceeds to track down Richard’s group. Here, Faraday expands on what he told Jack earlier; that he has decided that despite years of research that insists that the past cannot be changed, he believes he has focused too much on the Constant and has neglected the Variable. And that they – the people – are the variables, and that they have free will, and can change the future. Faraday plans on blowing up the Swan anomaly with the buried hydrogen bomb from episode 3 of this season to avert the disaster. No disaster, no button. No button, no pulse that crashes Oceanic 815. No 815, no freighter carrying doomed Charlotte to her destiny. Which, though he never says it, is really what Faraday is on about.

This is why we can’t be sure the paradigm of time travel established thus far is indeed crumbling. Faraday wasn’t necessarily thinking rationally; he was obsessed with finding a way to save Charlotte. It never seems to occur to him that the detonation of Jughead may be just what triggered the disaster in the first place, as details about it are sketchy at best. He may have had false hopes. And as it turned out, he couldn’t escape his destiny.

In his last off-island flashback/forward… wow, this is getting confusing. Off-island in 2005, we see Faraday crying at the news of the false 815’s retrieval, as we’ve seen it earlier before. Widmore visits to invite him to the freighter expedition, and we discover that the accident that hurt his research assistant is also affecting him; he has Memento disease, apparently. His mother convinces him he must return to the island to correct his memory; we also receive the unsurprising news that Widmore is Faraday’s father.

And thus, we find out that the past is once again unchangeable; when Faraday arrives at the Others camp, while brandishing a pistol at Richard he is fatally shot in the back by none other than his own mother. He tells her who he is before dying, and we now know that this is a woman who had to live her whole life raising him with the knowledge that she murdered her adult son – and convinced him to take the trip that would lead to her murder of him. Brutal. And brutal on the audience, as Faraday was a favourite of many, certainly of my own; he will be missed.

I can’t help but wonder that there wasn’t some symbolism in having the voice of science and physics killed in the 100th episode of the series. Does this indicate a more decisive shift away from the Man of Science to the Man of Faith? I suspect we’ll find out before long, and considering what’s been cooking with Locke re-incarnated, it’s a reasonable assumption to make.

So Faraday won’t be stopping the catastrophe, and his destiny was unchanged. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but it does still leave open the possibility that the 1970s O6 members can affect the future. Faraday, after all, was supposed to be there, as were the others who stayed on the Island when the O6 left; maybe Jack and Kate can take his idea and still avert the catastrophe with Richard, using Jughead. I only know for sure two things – you should never assume you’re right or certain about anything in Lost‘s world. And next Wednesday cannot arrive fast enough.