DANIEL: I don’t know.
In 2005, social scientist Malcolm Gladwell published a best-selling work of non-fiction entitled Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell’s book explores the phenomenon known as 'thin-slicing', in which a part of the human brain known as the adaptive unconscious can process massive amounts of information instantaneously. In one particular example, months of scientific tests indicated that a statue buried underground was authentic. Despite this evidence, a handful of experts were able to judge that the piece was a fake after only a two-second glance. Those experts, showing an uncanny psychic-like ability, eventually turned out to be correct. Although the elaborate hoax deceived our most advanced technology, it could not slip by the oldest and greatest piece of technology: the human brain. Examples of such amazingly accurate snap judgments in Blink may sound like science-fiction, but all of them are grounded in hard science.
The second episode of Lost’s Season Four begins with the familiar image of an Oceanic plane, although now resting at the bottom of the Pacific. The world at large accepts this visual evidence as the ultimate proof that confirms the deaths of the 324 passengers of the lost Flight 815. From here, Confirmed Dead reveals the story of the four extraordinary individuals around the globe, whose minds could not convinced by this extremely sophisticated fraud. In the blink of an eye, each one of them sensed something terribly wrong with the picture. Daniel Faraday, an expert on physics; Miles Straume, an expert on the dead; Charlotte Lewis, an expert on excavations; and Frank Lapidus, an expert on aviation; each one noticed something in those underwater images that did not add up. Whether you choose to call it adaptive unconscious, intuition, fate, a sixth sense, or even the will of the island, something convinced each of them that the plane on the bottom of the ocean was not the real Oceanic Flight 815.
Daniel, Miles, Charlotte, and Frank are not the first group of new characters to be introduced into Lost's already crowded ensemble cast. The show’s track record indicates that it will be difficult for any new characters to gain full audience acceptance, or even to survive very long. Season Two introduced us to tail-section survivors Ana-Lucia, Eko, and Libby, while Season Three introduced Nikki and Paulo. None of them survived to see the fourth season. Even though fan reaction to those new characters remains decidedly mixed, I for one greatly appreciated what each of these characters brought to the show. These characters were not always likable, and they certainly took screen time away from the core group, but nevertheless their stories brought great conflict, irony, and tragedy to the show. Ana-Lucia Cortez showed us an abrasively tough exterior, which concealed her hidden vulnerability as a despondent daughter and grieving mother. Mr. Eko lived his life as a warlord pretending to be a priest, or (depending on your interpretation) as a priest pretending to be a warlord. Libby’s story remains incomplete, but for now she will be remembered as a woman who acted the role of a clinical psychologist, even though she was in fact a mental patient. Paulo’s story contains perhaps the most irony of all, as he stumbled inadvertently upon answers to the major questions of the first two and a half seasons, precisely because he was not looking for them.
Although we can refer back to several episodes of development for each of these characters, Episode 4.02 presented only a very thin slice of information about each of the new characters: one flashback scene each and only a few scenes on the island. Naomi was quick to question the importance of any of these characters, but, as the sinister mastermind Matthew Abbadon tells us, “Every member of this team was selected for a specific purpose.” Based on these four brief introductions, what can we conclude about their purpose in the overall narrative?
Our first new character, Daniel Faraday (played by Jeremy Davies) received the largest amount of screen time on the island, but the briefest of the flashbacks. Although Daniel describes himself as a physicist, he quickly amends that description by saying, “I don’t really like to be pigeon-holed into just one thing.” Miles refers to Daniel with the sarcastic nickname ‘Genius,’ while Naomi characterizes Daniel merely as a ‘head case.’ His initial scenes show him acting more closely to their descriptions of him than his own. Faraday, taking a cue from the famous scientist from which he takes his name, exhibits a much better understanding of theoretical matters than practical matters. While Faraday is busy wrapping his mind around details such as how magnetism bends rays of light, he overlooks the more pressing matters of survival in this hostile environment. Daniel seems like the type of person who can apply the most advanced science with ease, even though he still has difficulty stringing a few sentences together.
Our second flashback introduces us to Miles Straume (actor Ken Leung), a misantrhope shaking down ghosts for drug money in Inglewood. In one of the series’ most supernatural off-island moments, Miles appears to communicate with the dead (albeit with a little medium-tech assistance). The Miles character offers an unusual take on traditional psychic stories. Miles regards his ability neither as a gift nor as a curse, but merely as a tool to be exploited for his maximum benefit. Although Miles appears to be a more authentic psychic than Richard Malkin, he also appears to be even more cynical about his work. His exorcism is less of a mystical experience and more like a Sayid-style interrogation session to obtain information. Many other characters would rejoice at the chance to speak with the departed, but, in a true Lost reversal, the only dead people Miles cares about are the dead presidents printed on bills.
Charlotte Lewis (actress Rebecca Mader) works in a profession that holds great significance in the world of Lost, both literally and metaphorically. As a cultural anthropologist, she specializes in digging up the secrets of the past. Of the four new characters, Charlotte initially appears to be the happiest to be there. The island should serve as a veritable gold mine for her intellectual curiosities. We have seen artifacts of the island’s rich cultural history already, and Locke’s observation “Nothing stays buried on this island for long” should become even more true thanks to Ms. Lewis. In classic Lost symbolism, we can guarantee that this anthropologist, like all of our other characters, has some secrets buried in her past as well.
(As an only semi-serious aside, I think that Charlotte’s introduction in this episode might establish her as a future romantic interest for John Locke. Could it be just a coincidence that Charlotte fell from the sky directly into Locke’s path? Their opening words to each other would qualify as flirting in other contexts: “Hi” and “Hi yourself.” Under different circumstances, Locke could have even used the famous pick-up line: did it hurt, when you fell from the sky? On second thought, that line has too many weird implications from its use in The Man From Tallahassee. Although Locke probably would have killed Miles if he happened to fall there, John appears genuinely concerned with what Charlotte thinks of him. While Locke has been uncovering the truth about the Dharma Initiative on the island, Charlotte has been doing the same thing half a world away. Charlotte unearths the Dharma bear collar with same crazed look in her eye that Locke showed upon his discovery of the Swan hatch. To top it all off, Locke and Charlotte now share another common bond, because they both survived gunshots from Ben. Sometimes, the Magic Box loves to play matchmaker.)
The least-prominent member of the bunch, pilot Frank Lapidus (portrayed by Jeff Fahey), might also be the most likable. Frank already reveals some fascinating contradictions in his personality. Much like Faraday, Lapidus appears to be a something of a savant with very particular skills. Lapidus skilfully maneuvered his helicopter rotors in between tight trees to land it safely, but he could not maneuver himself up a small hill without damaging his phone and passing out at the top. He was also able to remember his friend’s wedding ring and the names of all 324 passengers on the flight manifest, but apparently he could not remember to show up to work on time on September 22. The most intriguing aspect of Frank’s character might be the fact that he was ‘supposed to be flying Oceanic 815 on that day’. Frank takes pride in the fact that he did not crash the helicopter (“Crash? What the hell kind of pilot do you think I am?”), so he should be especially motivated to see his passengers returned home safely.
After flashback scenes introduce us to our four living characters, the recently deceased Naomi Dorrit asks Abbadon a very relevant question that we should all be asking ourselves. Why would anyone possibly want to assemble a team of specialists including a physicist, an exorcist, an anthropologist, and one hell of a pilot? If there was a military objective, then why not send a platoon of mercenaries? With Naomi eliminated, this team will be ill-equipped to handle their assigned task. If Abbadon truly knows what he is doing (and by all indications, he does), then his primary target is not the people on the island but the island itself. Abbadon assembled this team in order to study the island. Faraday will offer a unique insight into the more scientific elements of the island’s mysteries: its overall electro-magnetic properties and past experiments. Miles will bring perspective to the more supernatural side of the island’s mysteries: the whispers, visions, and Jacob. Charlotte seems very qualified to investigate the history of the island: the Black Rock, the ruins, and the statue. Last but not least, Frank will use his skills to ensure that those three can transfer their findings safely off the island. In short, if you were trying to investigate everything you wanted to know about the island, these four specialists would probably be as prepared as possible.
Of course, Abbadon also selected a fifth specialist, Naomi, who brought her own set of skills. The episode’s final flashback scene offers a few details about Naomi’s background, as a covert operative with military training. Miles soon reveals Naomi’s primary mission objective: “We’re here for Benjamin Linus”. All of the events in this episode, and indeed all of the events since Naomi’s arrival in Catch-22, ultimately center around one man. Despite his convincing claims that he was protecting the island and protecting others, Ben was trying to protect only himself. Of course, in Ben’s own twisted megalomaniacal logic, the fate of the world does depend on his own survival. Charlie, Mikhail, Bonnie, Greta, and Naomi are only the latest casualties in the war to preserve Ben's position of power. Ben tricked his old people with an all-purpose excuse for all of his actions (Jacob told me to do it), and now he manipulates his new people with an all-purpose method to stave off execution (I have information you need).
Early in the episode, Ben taunted Sawyer by pointing out “Look at yourself. Yes, on this island, you're brave, daring, handsome, ... you’re someone, but if you left with them ... back in the real world a lowlife scam artist like you could never compete with a first-class surgeon.” Essentially, the same observation holds true for Ben himself as well as Sawyer. On the island, Ben is a man of great power and importance. Without it, he becomes a pathetic and irrelevant criminal. His father Roger Linus never gave him any of the attention that he wanted, but he has managed to murder and manipulate his way into a world that revolves entirely around himself. There is no real mystery about Ben’s ultimate cause: his cause is himself.
In one of the episode's most pleasant surprises, Locke and Sawyer display a dynamic partnership as the leaders of their new faction. Sawyer helps balance Locke’s fanaticism by questioning him every step of the way. The two men also share an almost brotherly bond, which centers on the man who created both of them, Anthony Cooper. (By the way, should we still be using the name Sawyer, or has he accepted the name James in his new family?) Although The Brig already seems like ancient history, it was only a week ago on the island that Locke lured Sawyer out into the jungle with the promise of killing Ben. Cooper's execution seems like mere practice now, as they debate whether to kill a far more dangerous foe. Sawyer knew what needed to be done then, and he knows what needs to be done now. When the moment of truth arrives in this episode, though, Ben exercises that same power over Locke that Cooper once did. Cooper controlled Locke time and again with the promise of fatherly love, and now Ben assumes Locke's puppet-strings by promising him answers.
SAWYER: It’s only a matter of time before he gets us, Johnny, and I’ll bet he’s already figured out how he’s going to do it.
Given the chance to pose just one question to Ben, Locke asks: "What is the monster?" How many more names will we need to add to the list of confirmed dead, before Locke realizes that the true monster of this story is the man standing right in front of him?
Article by Luhks