On the most recent "Lost" episode, the hatch prisoner who calls himself Henry Gale made a shocking revelation to Locke. While Locke was trapped by the mysterious blast doors, Gale stood at the computer while the timer counted down, but instead of typing in Hurley's mysterious numbers, Gale claimed he just stood by.
"The timer went all the way down to zero and then some funny red pictures flipped up," Gale told a shocked Locke. "And then things got real interesting." Gale claimed that, after some loud clunking noises and a hum "like a magnet," the timer simply started its 108-minute countdown again. "I never entered the numbers, I never pressed the button," the possible Other said.
If that's true, John Locke's world has just been rocked. The intense castaway was begging to get into the hatch even before he had an idea of what was inside. Once there, he was so enthused by the dry Dharma initiation film that he immediately said, "We're gonna have to watch this again." When Eko showed up with an additional bit of the film, even though it was just a tiny addition which merely warned against inappropriate computer use, Locke was fascinated. So to hear that all his careful staffing of the hatch and leaping to enter the numbers on time might be for nothing had to be shattering.
Of course, Henry Gale has been known to tell a lie, or a hundred. Add 'em up, stating with the fact that his name isn't really Henry Gale — he stole that off a Minnesota driver license from a man he presumably murdered. And he didn't really sail onto the island in a hot-air balloon — that, too, was the real Henry Gale's transportation. ("Wizard of Oz" fans recognize both the name and the balloon, of course, but on an island where no one's commented on the fact that Locke and Rousseau both have the names of famous philosophers, no one's going there.) His wife didn't really die and he didn't really dig her grave — again, that was Real Henry who was buried.
If the false Henry Gale is lying about the timer, then he likely wants Locke and crew to ignore it when it counts down, meaning he knows what will happen. If it's as deadly as some believe — a nuclear explosion, release of a bioweapon, or something else that would destroy the island or the hatch — Gale likely would also die in the resulting chaos. If he's telling the truth, then perhaps the hatch's timer is just another version of the the famous Yale test in which people thought they were giving powerful electrical shocks to others. There were no shocks, the "victims" were uninjured actors, but that didn't make it any less convincing to the participants. (Unless, of course, the promised “incident” rumbles softly but carries a big stick.)
But more importantly, if he's telling the truth, how much of the rest of the island is also false? Are all the castaways just rats in a giant maze, being observed and pushed through pointless exercises by godlike researchers?
Arrr! Is sea captain Gerald DeGroot?That, after all, has been a dominant theory about the island and the Swan station, reinforced by the Dharma film's hippy-dippy ramblings about Gerald and Karen DeGroot's efforts to build "a large-scale communal research compound" to study, among other things, psychology and parapsychology. The DeGroots (at least in their University of Michigan grad-student incarnations) seem like just the types who would dream up some wacky behavioral experiment to be administered to unwitting subjects for $5 and all the orange Tang you could drink.
Presuming that the bearded sea captain who kidnapped Walt is in fact Gerald DeGroot, the stakes might be a bit higher, but the skeptics among the castaways — Jack, in particular — have good reason to find the whole setup inside the hatch contrived, including those which everyone seems to be translating as related to death. Such hijinks probably are too subtle for anyone but screen-capture junkies (and certainly beyond the realm of the castaways, unless Sayid or Hurley suddenly reveal a doctorate in Egyptology) to appreciate, but they do contribute to the mystery.
And what about the mysterious signs claiming QUARANTINE? Desmond says his onetime hatch partner, Kelvin, died; was his death due to the same "sickness" that Rousseau claimed killed most of her crew? We know from Claire's recent flashback episode that the island did boast a sizable medical facility. So is there really a sickness, a bioweapon controlled by the Dharma crew? If so, where's the evidence?
Leaving aside the mysteries of the Swan station and its contents — the shower and washing machine, the somewhat musty record collection, the way-symbolic book selections and those rather real blast doors — there's also the matter of the other stations on the island.
Aside from the one station used by the Tailies as a shelter (the Arrow), the existence of the rest was merely speculative until the recent episode in which Claire, Kate and Rousseau found the very real Staff station, marked by a Dharmized caduceus.
If the orientation film is to be believed (the real one, not ingenious but presumably fake knock-offs like or ) there are a total of six stations on the island. Viewers now know about three, though aside from the Staff (which putatively has a medical function, enough to have kept Claire hostage while baby Aaron was in utero) the true purpose of the rest, and their locations, remain a puzzle.
Which brings us to the recent map we saw flashed upon the screen (and reprinted in Entertainment Weekly) which marked the Staff, Arrow and Swan, plus a fourth station — the Flame — and possible locations for at least two more. The map not only sets up a curious octagonal layout for the island (real? symbolic?) but its notations open about a thousand curious doors. At least one Candle-style “incident” is described from 1985 involving “AH/MDG.” We'll lay even money that Alvar Hanso is AH; MDG could be the mysterious “Magnus” mentioned on the map, or maybe a DeGroot, or maybe they're one and the same.
Other scribblings refer to shutdowns of the “Dharmatel Intranet” and puzzling “sightings” that are “minimal during lockdown and restocking procedures.” Which could mean just about anything: sightings of Smokey the black fog monster? Restocking of all that Dharma ranch dressing and Apollo bars that keep Hurley from a crash diet?
The farther you dive into the Dharma/hatch puzzle, the more you come back to the original two possibilities: Either this was a utopian science commune gone horribly awry, probably thanks to scientists messing with stuff they couldn't control (like the “gene therapy and extreme climate change” that acclimates polar bears to the South Pacific) or the DeGroots are running a mind game of Dungeons & Dragons-like proportions. Make that Advanced D&D.
Take either of these theories and run with them, and you're still left with more questions than answers. Perhaps the solution is that both the solutions are correct. The happenings in the hatch are part of the mental angle of the DeGroots’ experiment: Can we scare people into pushing a button every 108 minutes? The answer seems to be "yes," but for how long must the button-pushing continue?
Suppose the polar bear is from the zoology section of the experiment. Suppose, too, that the Dharmites are somehow studying kids with strange powers (parapsychology, anyone?). They somehow managed to get young Walt, who showed traces of his power even back home in Australia, onto the same flight as pregnant Claire, who'd been told eerie things about her unborn child by a psychic. Since Walt's powers seem to involve control of animals in some way (though he can't seem to keep Vincent out of trouble) it's possible the Dharmites want to harness that, and use him as some kind of animal wrangler in their polar bear-heavy world. It's unclear yet what powers baby Aaron may have, but the Aussie psychic made him sound like either a savior or a demon. Either way, he could be useful.
Drawn inMagnetic powers have been mentioned numerous times on the show. Fake Henry Gale said he heard a magnet-like hum before the timer reset and the blast doors flipped back up. Can it be just a coincidence that crates of Dharma-brand food were dropped on the island when the blast doors were down? Perhaps some kind of magnet controls the food drop, and for whatever reason, the Dharmites don't want anyone leaving the hatch when that food is falling.
Finally, we go back to Marvin Candle's basic description of the Swan station in the orientation film. As Candle tells it, the station was designed not for psychology but for research into the “unique electromagnetic fluctuations emanating from this sector of the island.” It's also escaped exactly no one's notice that the island is a magnet of its own for transportation accidents. Flight 815, the drug-smugglers' plane, the real Henry's balloon, Danielle Rousseau's ship — the island appears to be pulling craft into itself in a kind of Bermuda Triangle-style vacuum.
It's not yet clear why the island wanted balloonist Henry Gale, Rousseau or the drug smugglers, but many folks on Oceanic Flight 815 have reasons to be drawn there. Besides Walt and Claire/Aaron, Hurley just happens to be cursed by the very numbers that control the hatch's computer, Jack just happened to know hatch resident Desmond, and John Locke just happened to have paralysis that the island could somehow cure. The island may be sucking in other craft almost by accident, but it wanted Flight 815, perhaps even enough to have someone assemble the passenger manifest before the plane even took off.
Jon Bonné is MSNBC.com's Lifestyle Editor. Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor.