Tuesday, February 9

TMI 12: The Second Snake in the Mailbox

Author's Note: Thanks for stopping by to check out the Second Snake Theory! I encourage you to bookmark the main site and join us each week for episode discussion, analysis, and general shenanigans. -MMorse


When Season 3 of Lost came to its justifiably-lauded conclusion, after I’d processed what had just happened, I turned to my then-girlfriend and asked: “How the heck did we not see that coming??”

Among its strengths, Lost is masterful when it comes to the art of slight-of-hand misdirection. While you and I are staring in one direction (“Why is Jack all emo and Grizzly-Adams-y? When did this happen in the flashbacks?”), the show’s writers are quietly, busily working in another direction, setting up twists that seem obvious after the fact. It’s the mark of a great magician, and it’s precisely what the writers pulled off during that finale. The Season 3 reveal that Jack and Kate had somehow left the Island represented the writers’ biggest and most brazen bit of slight-of-hand to date. It was such a shocking bit of business that the show's writers gave it a nickname: "the rattlesnake in the mailbox."

Arguably, it shouldn't have worked as well as it did. Giving Jack a previously-unseen beard and showing him slumped in a room with a giant map plastered to the wall ought to have given most of us a giant clue that something was up here - but most of us were too busy watching the magician rolling up his sleeves to notice his assistant loading doves into his jacket. To torture the metaphor a little further: if it'd been a (rattle)snake it would have bit us.

The question that I found myself pondering this weekend, after a long day and a cold beer, was whether there’s a new snake and a new mailbox, so to speak.

Despite Lost’s wonderfully weird ‘mythology,’ it’s tendency to mix polar bears and inhospitable environments, it’s love of ‘ghosts’ and Whispers and apparent-gods, the show’s writers have always claimed that “character comes first.” For the most part, I agree. The show has fairly consistently emphasized the characters and their relationships over and above the Island’s mysteries. The off-Island “flashes” featured in the Season 6 premiere do just that. While there are a bunch of “coincidental” path-crossings, there’s close to zero mythology in the off-Island segments (the main exceptions being the shots of the underwater Island, and the disappearance of Christian’s coffin - which may be mythology-related, and may not be). All the Island’s weirdness is so far largely confined to the “on-Island” flashes. And I’d like to suggest, with absolutely no evidence at all to back me up, that this is both intentional and a potential clue.

Lost’s Season 6 premiere featured two separate storylines – one in which the Jughead group was pushed ‘forward’ into the ‘present day’ on-Island, and one in which it appears that the crash never happened, that Oceanic 815 and its passengers landed safely at Los Angeles International Airport. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have both stated that the question of how these two storylines match up is a “slow burn” question that will be answered as the season progresses.

Are the castaways "split" into alternate versions of themselves, the way an atom is split to create a nuclear explosion? That’s certainly very possible, and the “quantum worlds” theory fits in well with much of what we’ve seen hinted at and explored on Lost in terms of scientific theories.

Are the castaways simultaneously experiencing "dual time-lines"? Have they created a separate "stream" in the river of time? That’s also a good, solid possibility, given everything we learned about the show’s conception of time in Season 5.

Those are the two most popular solutions to this particular question, as far as I’m able to tell. It’s likely that one of them will be proven correct over the course of the season. But there’s a third option here, and it’s one that I personally haven’t seen discussed. This is the figurative “second snake,” and if I'm right, Season 6 is the mailbox.

My nutty theory:

What if these off-Island segments are not an alternate universe, not an alternate timeline, not an alternate anything? What if, instead, these off-Island segments are actually the “second half” of Season 6, playing concurrently alongside the "first half" for the audience? What if all that we saw “off-Island” in the premiere comes about, not because of the Jughead detonation (which, as we’ve seen, has moved the castaways forward to the present on-Island), but as a result of everything we’re seeing play out now on the Island? What if Jack and Company need to see their Island destiny through before they can "go back" to the beginning and try again?

In other words: Maybe Season 6 itself a kind of giant version of the Season 3 finale. Maybe the off-Island segments in the premiere are the effective equivalent of Jack’s “flashbacks” from that finale, taking place "after" the events on-Island that we're also watching.

Why this isn't (totally) the ravings of an insane person:

At its heart, Lost has always been a show about human connection, about the value of community, of seeing things from another’s (an Others’) point of view, of the importance of reaching out to sustain each other in life.

What better way to emphasize this character-driven philosophy while still holding the audience’s interest with Smoke Monsters and kooky Temples and ash-barriers and whatnot, than to simultaneously show both the final act (on-Island) and the denouement (off-Island) at the same time? And what better way to emphasize the primacy of the human spirit and individual choice over warring pseudo-gods and mythical Islands than to give these characters the opportunity to truly heal each other, away from ooky-spooky Hatches and jungle-dwelling Others – back in the real world where that kind of healing and connection is so genuinely important?

Structurally, doing this ‘mirrors’ their past Season 3 finale and, more than that, it mirrors the season itself, with each “half” of the season mirroring the other half. In this way the show itself becomes a kind of metaphorical “spiral,” like the Orchid Station symbol, in which the Seasons reflect each other from opposing, increasingly-close sides.

While the journey of the characters is the focus of this show, this is the final season and, realistically, once you’ve told people about the nature of the Island, the identity of the Monster, and answered many of their burning questions, are people going to want to sit around and watch a few episodes worth of off-Island interactions which end up emphasizing the show’s themes? Would those stories really “matter” as much to the audience once the thrill-ride portion of the season was finished?

I suspect that the answer, realistically, is no. And that’s pretty reasonable, really. Think of Stephen King’s “The Stand” – a novel that Lost’s writers have cited as inspiration. I can only speak for myself but, as enjoyable as those final wrap-up chapters were, they felt like an inevitable let-down after the showdown in Vegas. Structuring the final season so that the audience watches both the “exciting conclusion to the mystery” at the same time that they’re watching character-based resolutions to individual story arcs solves this problem, and it adds potential “value” to the season. If I’m right (and again, that’s a HUGE if – this whole theory might end up disproved by tonight’s episode), then structuring the season this way encourages people to immediately go back and rewatch it once it’s concluded, so that they can experience the “ending”again.

What do you think? Should I be locked up? And are you as amped for tonight's episode as I am?


  1. This lines up pretty much exactly with my guess. My theory right now is that the "sideways world" is their epilogue, a reward of sorts for playing their parts in the Island's endgame. I'm sticking to that until it's disproved. Michael Emerson, Matthew Fox, and Damon/Carlton have said repeatedly that after seeing the end of the series, we'll immediately want to go back and watch Season 1. That may be a statement on comparing the beginning and end of their journey, but more than likely that's also a clue to the end. Your theory would fit.

  2. And without giving too much away for people who haven't read it, that would also mirror Stephen King's "The Dark Tower", another favorite of Damon/Carlton.

  3. Interesting post. Maybe you are right and something like "Incident-2" is coming up.

    I am thinking it would be "neat" if season-6-alt-timeline ends exactly as season-6-timeline ends. Regardless of what created the two timelines, they will merge into one timeline going forward (multidimensional course correction ensures both stories are moving towards the identical 'game state').

  4. I like it Morse. Sort of the opposite of my earlier guess that the off-Island stuff was leading them back to 1977 to undo their mistake (detonating Jughead). Your idea is certainly more elegant anyway.

    I also like the idea of the two timelines ending the same regardless, but I think that would lean a little too much towards Destiny over Free Will. Plus, I don't know how they could cram in that much info in the time allotted.

  5. I love it and also was thinking that there is a twist we are all missing. I think you pretty much may have nailed it. We shall see!

  6. yes, i started to have that same theory after i watched that great scene between jack and locke at the airport in LA X. And perhaps as the season goes on our castaways off island will remember more and more as jack helps john to walk again etc. until the finale when the finally rememeber the entire journey they have been through. perhaps all this, with the help of desmond.

  7. Count me among the folks who think your theory might be on the money.

    What's struck me through the first few S6 episodes is how many of the things that it took 5+ seasons to happen in the "original" timeline are happening so quickly in the "alternate" timeline.

    Jack seems to be at peace in the new timeline, and seems to be on the path toward healing Locke (rather than the Island doing it). Kate chooses to stop running and care for Claire, rather than being forced into it by circumstance (as on the Island). Ethan is Claire's doctor, rather than her abductor. Desmond seems happy, and is wearing a wedding ring -- no idea if he's married to Penny, but the point is that he's happy from moment 1, rather than taking 5 years to get there. Charlie seems to know he's supposed to die and accepts it (though, admittedly, it's a much less honorable attempt at death than the last time). And Hurley is "lucky" rather than "unlucky", and I assume part of this is because he won the lottery without using the Numbers (which originated due to the Island).

    In the "original" timeline, these things only happened because of the Island, or perhaps because Jacob and/or MIB were pulling strings in the background to bring people together.

    In the "alternate" timeline, though, they seem to be happening without any outside influence. Perhaps they're happening due to a combination of fate (I like the quantum worlds/quantum probability theory) and choice (characters perhaps retaining some of the "lessons" they learned in the "original" timeline).

    So maybe the whole Jacob vs. MIB thing finally ends - presumably after numerous time loops and iterations and attempts to "change" things each time - when they simply stop playing the game and let things unfold the way they will without anyone moving chess figures around the board. And maybe that's what we'll see at the end of the series.

  8. MMorse, I really like your idea for the shows conclusion. Although the side-flashes have been relatively dull at this point, your theory will make them much more poignant in May.

    As an idea to the meaning of the numbers I would like to think that for a long time Jacob has been trying to bring the correct people necessary to complete a sequence to finally bring closure to the island's purpose. I see the numbers represent missing puzzle pieces in the form of castaways. I guess another analogy would be the way people continue to buy packs of cards when all you need are 3 or four to complete set. Once you have the set, no need for more castaways. All the doubles are simply extraneous, but can be used to facilitate the cards you need (through trades).

    The MiB is bored with this game (tired of jacob's company) and would rather destroy the temple and reach his "home" rather than let the island reach its purpose. He has has moved on from collecting cards.

  9. I like that theory, but how do you account for differences like Charlie, Boone and Artz being alive? Or the fact that Hurley thinks he's lucky? OR, Jin and Sun not being married?

  10. Thanks, everyone. Great thoughts!

    Anon - if the end of the show (ie, these flashes) take place because Oceanic didn't crash, then Boone, Arzt and Charlie are alive because they never went to the Island and died in the first place.

  11. Thanks for the thoughtful post, MMorse. Was wondering the same thing when Jack noticed the cut on his neck (on the airplane), and when Juliet seemed to be time-skipping before her death (will she meet James again in LA and go "dutch?"). Always fun stuff with LOST:)

  12. This theory is only strengthen after this weeks episode, as we see Claire and her involve ment in the On-Island Kate storyline. This is a good theory, and one I'm going to keep in mind as I watch the following season.

  13. This theory mirrors my thoughts exactly. We are seeing a reset. The "on-island" stuff will lead up to 'how' the reset will occur and the "off-island" stuff will show us what happened after the reset and 'why' the reset needed to occur. I'm assuming it has something to do with Aaron's birth. Both strains will conclude simultaneously in the season finale, telling us everything we need to know right at the last second, in true Lost fashion.

  14. It is an interesting theory, and one that holds water, but I personally hope it's something else. They have said in the podcasts that they wanted to examine the far-reaching effects of detonating Jughead and "resetting" the timeline. Basically, Jack thought that the reset would just take them back to Oceanic 815, but the effects would be much more far-reaching than that. Darlton has said as much that they would be exploring the consequences of that for at least the first part of this season. If this is actually the denouemet of the series, it means that Jughead was pretty much irrelevant as a plot point, and I don't think they would make such a major plot point, especially one that was the keystone of a season finale, a moot point. Just my thoughts though.

  15. I love this theory.

    But the one thing that's missing is how is this possible. How can the island be sunk in 2004 BEFORE the events in 2007.

    So here's my own addition to the theory: when the nuke exploded, it REVERSED the stream of time. So now what happens in the present affects the past.

  16. I like this theory a lot the more I think about it and it would be a great way to end the series, especially if it played out to the end. But like Scott said, the producers have hinted that these time lines will join before long implying that either A) this theory doesn't fit or B) the second incident is coming much sooner than the end of the season.

  17. That's pretty much the more logical explanation of what we see, and this was my first guess, but wasn't that EVERYBODY's first guess ? Of course the Oceranic not crashing is happening AFTER what we see on the island. When everything will be done on the island, someone will go back in time and the entire line of event will change, resulting in Oceanic not crashing.

    I don't believe one second that we are witnessing some king of "road not taken" that isn't directly linked to the events we are witnessing with the Temple and stuff.

    But this theory is so obvious it's not even a theory. It's like they don't even try to hide it. So either they are ending the series without a bang which seems to be the case, OR fasten your seatbelts because we have NO IDEA what they've prepared for us. And i hope they do have a crazy twist about that.

    I guess the answer for the big why stands with Jacob and his "friend". They seem to be playing chess (or backgammon...), that's it, and when the game is over, they'll start a new one with new pawns.

    The game started a long time ago, and when it is done. EVERYTHING they played with will go back to zero.

    One last thing : i don't think the Jughead exploded. The incident happened, with or without the jughead exploding.

  18. As a poster above said, this idea strongly references the (arguably cop-out) ending of King's Dark Tower cycle...

    In the context of Lost, it would actually work better and be a more satifying conclusion.

    Time will tell, eh?

  19. Miller,

    I agree. If you google 'chud lost rewatch dark tower' you'll be able to see where I've brought it up. Thanks for reading!

  20. It is an interesting theory and probably wouldnt be a bad end but i would also be disappointed.

    My "ideal" ending for Lost involves the Island still being there, i found it really interesting that MiB at the end of the last season said that all the people on flight 815 were miserable, Locke was just the only one who knew it.
    It is still early in the season, but so far what we have seen of the people in the new timelime, apart from Hurley they are still the same miserable people, and it doesnt really seem like a "happy" ending.

  21. SLEIGHT of hand...

    Great column, though. :)

  22. I'm upset that I read this because I believe without a doubt that this is the case. It's bothered me why they would want to illustrate the goings on of a parallel universe when there was seemingly no potential for a direct tie to their original selves. It seems impossible also for a transfer of consciousness as they are existing both separately and concurrently. Your explanation not only would be satisfying to the viewer but probably the most universally acceptable way to handle the conclusion of the series.

    Although I'm not actually upset I am disappointed as even if this is not where they are planning on taking the show I can guarantee it won't be better than this.

    Damn my curiosity and your well thought theories.

  23. Alright Morse. After tonight, I'm thinking you're right. I was skeptical before. But I'm in.

  24. I just found this site. Awesome and insightful.

    Back on Feb. 5, I floated the same theory elsewhere online (http://tinyurl.com/yzeqsxm), though not in so eloquent a fashion.

    I like this theory a lot, because while the show explores leaps through time, so does the narrative. Beyond the Season 3 finale, we’ve been given scenes that we later learn didn’t happen when we thought they were happening (Sun’s post-Island labor and delivery, for instance, was intercut with pre-Island scenes of Jin rushing to a delivery, creating a false impression of temporal unity and an emotional sucker punch when that impression was stripped away).

    Season 6's storytelling device, then, would be the opposite, in a way, delivering touching, positive outcomes for the castaways after some as-yet-to-be seen annulment of the crash.

  25. Hey, Ryan - Just wanted to say thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to read my ramblings.

    Hope to hear your thoughts on the episodes to come!

  26. Hello. I'm here to comment on the Second Snake Theory. Before I do, I would like to say that I may not be right. Also, even though I don't think it's going to happen, I still think there's a lot of sense in it.

    First of all, Juliet said "it worked". Her saying that would mean that the survivors were already saved and the plane already landed safely, which could only be possible in two separate timelines. So this would bust the "second snake theory". Also, if Season 6 is all one timeline, then how or why would they go from knowing each other to being total strangers? It doesn't make sense.

    One more point re: the bomb detonation: if the off-island scenes are actually the second half of the season (making the entire season one timeline), then how does that mean "it worked"? The results of the detonation would occur instantly. If it didn't create the off-island timeline, then what else could it have done? Without the theory of the on-island and off-island scenes being two separate timelines, the detonation would have been useless (and a waste of time). Juliet said it worked. How exactly could the bomb factor in to your theory?

    Also, the opening of Season 6 showed everyone on the plane before they crashed just like in Season 1. Yes, they don't crash, but that scene took place in 2004. The on-island scenes take place in 2007. This is why I believe they are separated timelines. They take place 3 years apart from each other. Also, in different timelines (or worldlines), each one has different outcomes than the rest. That's why Hurley is lucky, Kate helps Claire instead of running away, Desmond is content and married, Locke accepts his disability and so on.

    Don't get me wrong, your theory has some very strong points to it. In fact, I wish it really was true. I guess the only reason why I don't believe your theory is based on facts. Either way, I could be totally wrong with everything I'm saying and I hope you do no take offense to my disagreement.


  27. Elliot,

    I don't take offense in the slightest. I encourage my readers to disagree with me. To try and answer your thoughts:

    I believe that The attempted Jughead detonation may be a necessary step along the path to a potential reset of the timeline. Without that attempt, what we see happening on-Island now would not be occuring. And it's these on-Island events that I believe may lead to an eventual, effective reset.

    Think of the castaway journey as being similar to the one we've already seen them take, backward in time to the 1970s. Only, instead of a linear trip back to 2004, the timeline is 'reset' so that the 2004 castaways don't retain conscious memories of how they got there (although I believe they retain un/subconscious memories).

    Juliet's claim that 'it worked' would refer to this eventual reset, and the line makes sense if you consider the possibilty that her consciousness has toggled back and forth between her 'present' and the reset past in the same general way that Daniel's rat, Eloise, experienced a shift in consciousness.

    I'm in no way claiming that I'm right about any of this (and I'm most likely not right - although, if you've read any of he Rewatch columns you'll see that I've managed to predict some Season 6 events accurately). It's just as possible that the sideways worldis a separate, "alternate" timestream, or that it's a potential result of Anti-Locke escaping the Island, or any number of other options. But at this point, and given Lost's love of twists and it's themes of redemption, it seems like a potential solution.

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll continue to comment when you're moved to do so.



  28. We have seen the island at the bottom of the ocean in 2004. How can an H-Bomb sink an island? Dharma-Ville and the Foot of the Statue are intact. Where are the devastations of the explosion? I don't think that Jughead sunk the island, whatever happens at the end does. So, yeah, I'm with your theory.

    But another, totally wacky outcome could be that Jughead has pushed the whole island into the alternate timeline and at the end everybody meets their mirror selves. Awesome, but sadly highly improbable.

  29. Residento1 way up at the top was totally right about the dark tower series btw. As soon as i finished the last book i went crazy looking through my bookshelf to find the first so i could read the first few chapters again XD totally recomend them as long as you can get through the first book....its a little dry (no pun intended)

  30. This is exactly what I was thinking!! It really does make the most sense. But, I guess we'll see in a couple weeks...