While it wasn't in the same ballpark as The Constant, The Variable is a darn good episode and delivers exactly what we expect from Lost. Four out of five stars.
IMO, the episode did what this show does best: it used flashbacks to not only answer and create the mysteries surrounding the plot, but the episode fleshed out the history of the characters and makes them even more compelling to watch. While I had some issues as to what happened outside of the flashbacks (the 1977 island scenes), the strength of how they presented Faraday’s character and how that propelled the overall story eclipsed most of the problems I had with the story.
Ok. That’s the praise. Here are the criticisms.
The "Daniel Faraday comes clean regarding what he knows about the island" description of the episode was certainly disingenuous. While we certainly learned more about Faraday, he certainly didn't "come clean" with what he knows with the other survivors. He told Jack that he doesn't belong, that he needed the bomb to stop The Incident, and that he believes that people can change the past. That's pretty slim pickings when it comes to what he knows about the island.
What Faraday did on the island in 1977 was to planting a seed of doubt in Jack regarding his destiny, telling Dr. Chang to evacuate the entire island (with presumably their one submarine), and then told Jack and Kate that using the hydrogen bomb would change the future.
As to the first item (talking to Jack about destiny), that felt like an incredibly forced scene to me. I could almost see the hands of the writers steering characters this way and that. Faraday shows up on the island, runs to Jack's house, quickly states that Jack doesn't belong, and then runs out without any further explanation to the Orchid station. Not only doesn't it make a lick of sense, but it was blatantly obvious to be forced scene by the writers to dribble out information. Another great example of this is Hurley having absolutely no idea about the Sawyer & crew being in 1954. After everything the survivors have been through, it seems insane to think that they haven't at least told each other the basics of what happened since they last saw each other. I absolutely hate it when characters in Lost act stupid in order to perpetuate on-screen drama, as it reminds me of the annoying bits of Season 3 (like the Others being upset that the survivors don’t trust them) instead of the far more believable scenes of Seasons 1 & 4.
As to the second item, while the photo of Jack, Hurley and Kate brings Faraday back to the island, what prompted Faraday to suddenly run to the Orchid Station? How does he know that the energy under the Swan and Orchid station was going critical before he eavesdrops on Dr. Chang and the construction foreman? In his conversation with Miles after Dr. Chang leaves, it’s clear that Faraday knows that some of the Dharma folks (like Miles and his mother) will be evacuated. How he learned it is a mystery, and again, Faraday certainly didn’t say anything to give us a clue about it.
The third item, Faraday’s variable theory of time-travel and using Jughead to change history, came totally out of left field. After watching the concept of "what happened, happened" being hammered into our heads for at least an entire season, I was fairly surprised to see Faraday-the-Time-Travel-Expert suddenly claim that free will supersedes destiny. The writers are clearly setting up Faraday’s plan with Jughead and the Swan to be the center point of season finale, and the kick off for whatever twist carries us into the final season. While I’m fine with that, I’m completely at a loss to figure out why Faraday suddenly believes that free will trumps destiny. Everything we’ve seen has shown us otherwise, and frankly Faraday’s death and his mother’s foreknowledge doesn’t give me a lot of faith that he is barking up the right tree.
Erasing the history of the previous five seasons sounds like a really dubious place for the show to go, but that’s exactly what Faraday is proposing. It’s dangerously close to the “Then They Woke Up” method of storytelling, and hopefully it’s just a plot device to motivate Jack. Right now, I am assuming that Jack will use Jughead to create/stop/deal with The Incident and the results will be what has always happened, and thus history will not be erased. Unfortunately, that would mean that time travel expert’s variable theory is wrong, and so Faraday would essentially die for no logical reason, except to provide a plot point.
Pretty crappy options, if you ask me.
As for other items…
Dr. Chang’s research is classified, but he’ll tell the construction foreman that they are trying to manipulate time?
Those submarines are fast. It’s only been a couple days since the new Dharma recruits were dropped off, so a copy of the photo of the new recruits must have been sent back with the sub, and Faraday and the Swan crew in Michigan immediately came back to the island. Perhaps the island is in the Atlantic now? ;)
Desmond doesn’t own bulletproof groceries, and he beat the crap out of Ben after being shot. This guy is still my favorite character on the show. Pity he gets hardly any screen time in Season 5…
Speaking of lack of screen time, Jin is sliding into irrelevance. Beyond his scenes with Russeau in the 80s, and running around the Flame Station for an episode looking for Sun, he’s pretty much been a glorified extra in Season 5. His contribution to this episode is saying that he won’t leave without Sun during the meeting, and then he vanishes into obscurity again.
Penny’s mother isn’t Eloise Hawking, since we know that Widmore was banished from the island after having a kid with an outsider. Since Hawking is an Other, clearly Penny’s unknown mom is that outsider.
Why did Widmore need to sacrifice his relationship with his daughter, and why did he bring it up? Hawking’s real sacrifice of her son makes Widmore’s line seem even more pathetic, and the slap he received that much more deserved. From the cunning mastermind and ex-leader of the Others, that was a boneheaded line from Widmore.
Faraday experimented on himself (and then Theresa) after Desmond’s visit during The Constant. Theresa becomes catatonic and Faraday loses his memory. The only explanation I have for why Faraday’s notebook is filled with Dharma notes (like the Orchid symbol) is that he became mentally unstuck in time during the experiment. He lost his memory, but periods of lucidity allowed him to jot down fragments of what he learned, thus filling the notebook with valuable, but enigmatic, information. I thought that might be why Faraday knows about what is happening with the Swan and Orchid stations, but he’s dead by the time The Incident occurs. How would it explain how he knows that there is only six hours until something catastrophic happens to the Swan, or that some of the Dharma folks (like Miles and his mom) will escape the island? Unless his time travel experiment was even stranger that previously assumed, Faraday never experiences any of this first hand.
Ok. Enough nitpicking. Despite all of the above, just like with Charlie’s death, Faraday’s death sets up Jack & crew to really shine in the final few hours of the season.
The preview for Follow The Leader looks amazing, and I’m sure that combined with the Incident, I’m going to be a very happy camper.
I can’t wait until next week!