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An ocean of new mysteries on ‘Lost’

What's the Dharma Initiative?  And are the others really the Others?

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers, obsessive detail and random speculation. Don't read on if you want to be surprised, or if you want to get any work done today.]

We thought the new season of “Lost” might answer a few . Instead, it opened several dozen new cans of worms.

Since we only scraped the surface in our weekly recaps, now seemed like a good time to review all the other little tidbits we've been gathering in our endless string of Thursday-morning e-mails across the newsroom. (Don't tell our bosses.)

Here's hoping we'll get a few insights this week. Doubtful, but you never know.

(1) Inside the hatch. The hatch turns out to be the back door to research station No. 3 ("The Swan"), or so we learned in the orientation film Locke and Jack watched in last week's episode.

But the film posed a ton of new questions.  We finally understand the mysterious logo seen on nearly everything in the hatch, which represents the Dharma Initiative, a privately funded "large scale communo-research compound," says the film's narrator, Dr. Marvin Candle — created by University of Michigan doctoral candidates Gerald and Karen DeGroot in 1970. (We're guessing on spellings.)

As for the logo, it's clearly derived from the "ba gua" octagon used in feng shui: the eight elements arranged in the same manner, with the yin-yang replaced by a stylized swan drawing.

And it's on everything, including the '80s-era Apple II computer used to reset the 108-minute countdown that freaks out Desmond and Locke, and even on the food Kate found in the storeroom. (The food appears to play big in this week's Hurley-themed episode. And what of the "Apollo" candy bars Kate grabbed?) The logo was pretty clearly on the shark (or whatever it was) that menaced Sawyer and Michael on the raft in the Sept. 28 episode.

But what about the "quarantine" marking on the door? Locke tried to convince Desmond it was placed there simply to keep him from leaving, but it's clearly got Desmond scared (though not scared enough to avoid running into the jungle). And what of the medicine Desmond injected himself with, the vials with that had the mystery numbers (4-8-15-16-23-42) on them?

The mural painted on the station wall also has us mystified, too. But we're in enormous debt to the impressive (if geeky) work of several astute fans who've created maps of the Swan station's layout and posted them online. (You can find a couple here and here.)

2) Light that Candle. We remain as puzzled as Jack by Marvin Candle's instructions to enter the numbers "into the microcomputer processor," especially because the film then skips directly to Candle saying "induction into the program." It skips again in the midst of Candle's big warning: "Do not attempt to use the computer ... [spliced edit] ... for anything."

"Lost" creator J.J. Abrams is having a good chuckle right now. And we got a big tip-off from E! Online, which got co-creator Damon Lindelof to tell everyone to "check out Marvin Candle's left hand. Weird, huh?"  We did, and found that Candle's left arm and hand never moves throughout the entire orientation film. In fact it looks a bit fake, like a bad prosthetic. Or it could be one of those "Twin Peaks" things — "I am the arm" and such — though we sorta hope not.

(E! also hints a female character will be killed off soon. Just saying.)

3) Whither Dharma? The DeGroots are curiously described as ""following in the footsteps" of B.F. Skinner, the father of psychological operant conditioning. That led many viewers to speculate, with good reason, that the entire Swan setup — the computer and countdown, the "quarantine," the whole shebang — is one big psychology experiment. Jack clearly thinks so, though it didn't stop him from pressing "execute" as the clock ticked down. 

But what does this have to do with Dharma's real purpose?  We've been told about Dharma's research topics — from meteorology to zoology (polar bears!) — but the film skips again from Candle saying something about "utopian social ... " to him describing Hanso. Arrgh!

One clue: Candle mentioning that the Swan station was established to examine "unique electromagnetic fluctuations emanating from this sector of the island." He mentions the "incident" that prompted a need to keep pushing the button every 108 minutes. Last season, Sayid was puzzled by huge magnetic anomalies on the compass he got from Locke, a first hint about the magnetic weirdness that, some viewers think, caused flight 815 to go off-course and crash. What's with the electromagnetic thing?  And we're dying to know about the alleged "incident."

We're also still trying to lay out a timeline. Why are research teams kept in the station for 540 days? What happened to the station prior to three years ago, when Desmond was taken there by the mysterious Kelvin?

If Dharma was founded in 1970, the orientation film was made in 1980, and "Lost" is unfolding more or less present-day, then this whole story stretches back 35 years.  Maybe that's why Desmond kept playing Mama Cass Elliot's "Make Your Own Kind of Music" on that vintage record player: It was recorded in 1969.

4) The Hanso Foundation. The film's reference to Danish industrialist Alvar Hanso passed quickly, but like many of you, we found our way over to the semi-secret Web site at, where a hidden link to the Dharma Initiative can be found off the "Active Projects" page.

The Dharma link goes to a page that loads up a Flash video of the orientation film. (Update: We initially couldn't get it to load, but it worked just fine after a number of readers suggested we use the Firefox browser. Thanks!)

After the Ethan Rom thing there's been much speculation about which anagrams might be formed by Hanso's name, but we're more partial to the theories tracing the name back to Sanskrit, no huge surprise since Dharma is a central principle of Hindu (and Buddhist) teachings. Both Marvin Candle and the Hanso Web site use the Sanskrit greeting "namaste."

Also curious is Hanso's background, a mix of warmongering (as a high-tech weapons maker) and philanthropy. Safe bet that this dichotomy will resonate as we continue to figure out the island's history.

For that matter, consider the foundation's other projects. No big surprise on the Electromagnetic Research Initiative. But Juxtapositional Eugenics Development Institute (yes, J.E.D.I.) sounds creepy, and we're mystified by the Accelerated Remote Viewing Training Facility.

Another fun theory is that Hanso could be Locke's real father, which would explain all this talk of Locke's destiny being down the hatch. Gael also thinks Hanso looks a bit like Leslie Nielsen.

5) Which Others? Ana-Lucia's arrival last week was more mysterious than revealing. She's apparently aligned with the group of other islanders who captured Jin, Michael and Sawyer, but this other group is as puzzled by their captives as our three intrepid rafters are by their captors.

The yet-unnamed mystery Island Man (played by "Oz's" Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) asks Ana-Lucia, "Who are they?" We know Ana-Lucia sat at the rear of flight 815 in seat 42F (for what it's worth: flight's last row is 42, mystery sequence's final number is 42) but are the captors other survivors from the tail of the place? We assume they are.

If so, are they the Others that Rousseau mentioned last season? Or are there other Others yet to appear?  Some folks even think Ana-Lucia was one of the Others before she got on the flight, and her meeting Jack in the Sydney airport bar wasn't a coincidence. Could be.

Meantime, many viewers swore they saw Jin speaking English in the next-episode preview. (He's only spoken Korean thus far, though wife Sun secretly spoke English.) We thought we'd get a hint from a hidden script page found on, but we're still not sure whether Jin really can speak English, or whether we're hearing Jim through the ears of another character who can understand Korean. For that matter, was that really Jin in the trailer?

6) Other odds and ends.

  • What's up with Desmond, his stuffed rabbit and the copy of Flann O'Brien's "The Third Policeman", both of which he took when he bailed from the station? For much of the past week, this site featured a very Owsla-y image of a rabbit, along with cryptic messages hidden in Morse code. A hidden Web hunt for "Lost" clues, or a dead end? Speaking of books, the orientation film was hidden behind Henry James' "Turn of the Screw." Are we meant to draw a link between two spooky plots? And don't even get us started about Narvik.
  • In the season premiere, Shannon went looking for Walt's dog Vincent and instead found Walt.  Walt mumbled something incomprehensible, which many people played backwards and interpreted as either "Press the button, no button's bad," or "[Don't] press the button, the button's bad." Button being "Execute," presumably. What's with the "Twin Peaks" thing again?
  • In the season opener, two patients came into Jack's ER.  He made a choice to save wife-to-be Sara.  The other patient, Adam Rutherford, shares a last name with Shannon. Coincidence? We think not.
  • Oh, and we're still trying to parse the Swedish-registered Dharma Industries Web site. It keeps flashing "Invalid IP" when we try and get inside, though the flashing numbers go higher than 256, the upper limit for Internet Protocol numbers. (Yes, we're geeks too.) On a similar Dharma Initiative site, you can find a copy of the orientation film. Official Web spinoffs or unofficial tributes? lifestyle editor Jon Bonnè wants to know how often the Swan station gets food deliveries.