Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Lost Reviews: Part 11 - The Lost Experience

Welcome to the Lost rewatch project. I am currently rewatching all 121 episodes of the TV series which aired for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. This is very much a rewatch thread, with the show watched with knowledge of what is to come in later seasons. If you've never watched Lost before, you definitely do not want to read this blog series.

This entry is a little different in that it recaps The Lost Experience. This was an alternate reality game (ARG) that unfolded between Seasons 2 and 3 of Lost in the United States, and also played out via the show's British and Australian broadcasters. The ARG took the form of multiple websites, fake TV ads and live-action Comic-Con appearances which led to the unveiling of a series of videos with contained further information on the Hanso Foundation, the mysterious financial backers of the DHARMA Initiative. Part of The Lost Experience's modern-day storyline is considered semi-apocryphal (since some of it plays out in the "real world" where Lost is a TV show) but the revelations it contains about the backstory of DHARMA, Hanso, the Numbers and the Island were considered canon by the TV show producers.

Without further ado, let us continue after the jump.

The Lost Experience was extremely meta, featuring adverts and flyers actually posted up in major American cities, as well as websites for the fictional band Geronimo Jackson and the release of the Apollo Candy Bars from the Swan Station in UK comic book stores.

The Lost Experience
Written by Jordan Rosenberg, Laurence Shames, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and others

Airdate: 2 May 2006-25 September 2006

Story: The mysterious disappearance of Flight 815 in the South Pacific in September 2004 briefly grips the imagination of the world. The publishers of author Gary Troup - who was on board the plane -  rush-release his latest novel, Bad Twin, in an effort to cash in on the mystery. Although the novel is fictional, it does use the names of several real organisations, such as the Widmore Corporation and the Hanso Foundation. The Hanso Foundation is angered and runs newspaper adverts denouncing the novel. A hacker and activist code-named "Persephone" has been investigating the Hanso Foundation for some time and now feels motivated to start sharing her information with the outside world, in the hope of getting assistance for learning the truth about the organisation. A conspiracy theorist radio talk show host, DJ Dan, joins the quest for the truth.

The Hanso Foundation's founder is Alvar Hanso, a Danish weapons magnate who became fabulously wealthy in the 1950s and 1960s, helping provide arms for NATO. In the 1960s he set up the Hanso Foundation and began moving away from arms in favour of researching science and technology designed to help people. Alvar was also obsessed with his family history, particularly the mysterious disappearance of his great-grandfather Magnus Hanso in the 1840s, when his ship, the Black Rock, vanished on a voyage to the Pacific. In 1970 Hanso began bank-rolling the scientific research of a pair of scientists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the DeGroots, who then founded the DHARMA Initiative. Hanso continued to bankroll the organisation until the late 1980s, when he suddenly pulled the funding for unknown reasons. Alvar Hanso himself has not been seen in public for some years, with Dr. Thomas Werner Mittelwerk becoming the public face of the company. The Foundation's primary scientific work is now carried out at the Vik Institute in Iceland, where Mittelwerk has ordered experiments to be run using the "Valenzetti Equation" on a group of autistic savants.

"Persephone" is revealed to be a young woman named Rachel Blake. Blake travels around Europe, attempting to track down employees (current or former) of the Hasnso Foundation. She is helped by Darla Taft, an insider in the organisation keen to see its more dubious secrets exposed. Taft and her lover Hugh McIntyre are killed to prevent them revealing more information. Despite the danger, Blake continues to follow clues left behind by Taft. This leads her to Sri Lanka, where Mittelwerk has travelled using the container transport Helgus Antonius

The Sri Lanka video, featuring a DHARMA Orientation video from 1975 presented by Alvar Hanso himself.

Blake releases the "Sri Lanka Video" to the world via the (then) new video streaming service YouTube. This video, dated to 1975, is presented by Alvar Hanso himself. Hanso states that in late 1962, following the near-destruction of the world in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United Nations began working on a top-secret project. They wanted to see if it was possible to see when the world might be destroyed by nuclear war, overpopulation, bacteriological warfare, climate change or any of a number of other artificial causes, and how it might be possible to avert it. Italian mathematician and genius Enzo Valenzetti created the Valenzetti Equation, factoring in these numbers, and came up with a final figure that was not heartening: the final destruction of the civilised world from one or more of these causes would come in decades, not centuries or millennia. The values of this equation were 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, but the application of these figures was not provided.

To prevent a panic, the UN buried the report, but not before Hanso had learned of its existence. Using the experience gained in tracking the course of the Black Rock, he had located an island with unusual properties in the South Pacific. This island made a perfect, secluded place for scientific research. Working with the DeGroots, Hanso set up a series of installations on the unknown island starting in the early 1970s, resulting in the creation of the DHARMA Initiative. The goal of DHARMA was straightforward: by scientific investigation into areas such as finding alternate energy sources and manipulating electromagnetism and nuclear forces and seeing if it was possible to enforce behavourial change on mammals through environmental control (using polar bears as test subjects), it wanted to see if it was possible to start changing the values of the Valenzetti Equation. By changing those values, it would be possible to extend the anticipated lifespan of human civilisation.

At the end of the video, Mittelwerk appears and briefs a room full of scientists working for the Hanso Foundation. He confirms that the DHARMA Initiative failed, so the Foundation has been continuing research into the Valenzetti Equation itself. Their constant re-running of the equation over the previous forty-five years has failed to result in any changes, suggesting that despite growing environmental knowledge, the increase of renewable energy sources and so on, the human race is still moving towards the end as predicted by Valenzetti. Unfortunately, they're still not sure what date the numbers point to. Mittelwerk has come up with a radical new experiment: to infect two Sri Lankan villages with a deadly virus. The Foundation will use its vaccines to keep the mortality rate perfectly aligned at 30%. If they succeed, it means they will have gained complete understanding - and taken complete control of - an environmental factor, in this case a virus. One of the ways of changing the values of the Equation is to use science to gain a complete understanding of nature, and thus allow them to manipulate it to the advantage of humanity. The human cost will be painful, but necessary to save the billions of other people on planet. The video appears to end with Rachel Blake, who has been clandestinely filming the meeting, being apprehended by the people present.

Two Hanso insiders, Malik and De Zylva, help Rachel escape captivity and return to her the video she recorded.

A subsequent video is released in which Rachel is shown to be visiting a house in Narvik, Norway. Alvar Hanso is living in this house. He claims to be a virtual prisoner, having been overthrown in a corporate coup staged by Thomas Mittelwerk some years earlier. Rachel believes that Hanso is lying to dodge out of his responsibility for that the Hanso Foundation has done. Hanso confesses that he is Rachel's father and has been behind some of the leaks to encourage her investigations. He urges Rachel to use her videos and internet expertise to expose Mittelwerk and help free him.

Subsequently the police issue a warrant for Mittelwerk's arrest and Alvar Hanso is freed. He retakes control of the Hanso Foundation, halts Mittwelwerk's horrific experiments and vows to restore the Foundation to the work it has been doing for the good of humanity. However, Mittelwerk also releases a video saying that his way of saving humanity is the only way, and that he still has the virus in his control.

Alvar Hanso's letter confirming that he has retaken control of the Foundation.
Major WTFery: The whole thing, really. As a marketing tool, The Lost Experience was so obscure as to be almost impenetrable, but as a way of galvanising hardcore Lost fans into getting involved in the mythology, it was quite impressive.

Hindsight: Gary Troup was the guy who got sucked into the fanjet and killed in the opening moments of the pilot, shortly after the crash of Flight 815. The manuscript for his novel was found and read by both Hurley and Sawyer in the second season.

Marketing related to the band Geronimo Jackson was part of The Lost Experience. Geronimo Jackson albums were located in the Swan Station and the band was mentioned several times throughout the show.

Apollo Candy Bars, found in the Swan Station, were sold for real in British comic book stores during the Experience, most notably in branches of Forbidden Planet. Apollo Bars have become of a bit of an ABC in-joke, cropping up as recently as early 2016 in episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine.

In the 1975 video, Hanso states that food drops will continue on the Island "in perpetuity". This confirms that the Hanso Foundation are behind the pallet drops on the Island in Season 2, and these continue until Ben cancels them in the Season 6 epilogue minisode The New Man in Charge. It is probable that the Hanso Foundation was responsible for recruiting and sending people to the Island even after DHARMA's collapse, most notably Kelvin Inman (Live Together, Die Alone).

A much smaller-scaled ARG between Seasons 5 and 6 seemed to suggest that Hanso was reconstituting the DHARMA Initiative in a new, modern incarnation to pick up where the old organisation left off. However, this storyline was not developed further before Lost concluded.

Magnus Hanso is revealed to be the captain of the Black Rock on the Swan Station blast door map in Lockdown. In the Season 6 episode Ab Aeterno, it is confirmed that Magnus is the captain of the ship although he doesn't actually appear.

Some fans speculate that the Valenzetti Equation provides an average expected lifespan for civilisation and thus the conclusion is that life on Earth as we know it will be expected to end around 2070 (1962+108), with the chances of a cataclysmic end to civilisation rising sharply every year after that. However, that is not confirmed.

The Numbers of the Valenzetti Equation do appear later on in the show. In Season 6 it is revealed that Jacob has gathered candidates to replace him as the protector of the Island. He has assigned each person a number as follows:
  • 4: Locke
  • 8: Hurley
  • 15: Sawyer
  • 16: Sayid
  • 23: Jack
  • 42: Jin or Sun

Each one of these people has the ability to serve as protector and help save the world. Eventually, Locke, Sayid, Jin and Sun are all killed and Jack apparently dies in the finale, leaving Hurley as the protector of the Island (Sawyer is allowed to escape with former - but now revoked - candidates Kate, Claire and Miles). The link between the person and the Numbers may be symbolic or it may be a clue that the equation was actually about the characters who have the ability to save the world rather than the environmental factors.

Rachel Blake, played by Jamie Silberhartz, was the main character of The Lost Experience. She is revealed to be both "Persephone", an expert hacker, and the daughter of Alvar Hanso.

Canonicity: The backstory revelations from The Lost Experience about the Hanso Foundation, DHARMA Initiative and Valenzetti Equation are all 100% canon, being written and provided by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof themselves. The meta-fictional interactions, such as Rachel Blake interrupting a Comic-Con appearance by the producers, are 100% non-canon, since clearly Lost the TV show does not exist in the fictional universe itself. The recorded, present-day segments are said by the show producers to have "wriggle room", meaning that whilst the ultimate fate of the Hanso Foundation is likely canon, the details of Hanso, Mittwelwerk and Rachel's adventures do not necessarily have any bearing on the show. Since Lost's conclusion, fans tend to accept the whole thing (barring only the metafictional interactions where Lost is referenced as a TV show) as canon, since it is unlikely anything will happen in the future to contradict this.

Assessment: The Lost Experience was undeniably confusing, weird and bizarre. As Internet based series tie-ins go, it was hard to follow and difficult to tie into the events of the show until long after it had finished and people could sum it up better. Whilst the hardcore nature of the game is impressive, the fact that it locked out 99% of the show's fans things like the explanation for the Numbers is less laudable. Future Internet tie-ins to the series were far more straightforward, and The Lost Experience is notable for showing how you can overboard in your marketing. Only Valve's similar 2011 ARG for its video game Portal 2 was of comparable complexity, and even that didn't go anywhere near as far as this.

At the same time, the explanations for Hanso, the Numbers and the long-term purpose of the DHARMA Initiative are reasonably interesting, although it is somewhat mystifying the information was not released on the show as well.

No comments: