Once upon a time, LOST was all about hatches – not just regular hatches, either – mysterious hatches. It was all:
“How can we get inside?”
“Let’s blow it up!”
“Hey, we’re in the hatch now!”
“Neat – time to start pushing mystery buttons!”
Throughout the first five seasons, a great deal of time was devoted to discovering, exploring, and theorizing about the various hatches (or more properly, Dharma Initiative stations) around the island. Season 6 started amidst the wreckage of the first and most famous of these stations – The Swan – but since then, the Dharma stations have been forgotten amidst the business of taking sides in the epic showdown of maybe good versus maybe evil with the fate of the Island/the world/the show’s legacy at stake.
The purpose of the Dharma Initiative, including any interest in the Island and the conflict that’s occupying the show this season seems to have been conveniently forgotten. Considering how much time the show invested in the Dharma Initiative over the first five seasons, I have to believe that – like the numbers – an explanation for the Dharma Initiative will come before the end. What may not be explained are the structures the Dharma Initiative left behind.
With a debt of gratitude to Lostpedia, here’s a rundown of the Dharma Initiative stations and the lingering questions surrounding them:
The Staff is the Dharma station that a pregnant Claire was famously taken to by Ethan in Season 1. By all appearances, it’s a medical station, but whether that was to suit the Dharma Initiative’s purposes or the Others’ is not clear. Returning to it later brought back Claire’s memory of her abduction, and when Juliet joined the Flight 815 survivors, it was a convenient place to give Sun her sonogram and again to get equipment for Jack’s appendectomy.
As for the purpose of the station, Juliet states that pregnant women were taken there to die, but that would have been on the Others’ watch, not the Dharma Initiative’s. It doesn’t really make sense that the Dharma Initiative would house a medical facility so far away from the Barracks, so it follows that it was re-purposed by the Others later. Either way, there probably isn’t a compelling reason for the LOST writers to elucidate the exact origin and initial purpose of the station at this stage.
There really isn’t much to say about The Arrow. It was discovered and used for shelter by the survivors of the tail section in Season 2. Lostpedia lists the possible function of the station as “development of defensive strategies and intelligence gathering”, which isn’t an explanation that exactly shines with clarity. The missing edit for The Swan orientation film was found there, as well as a mysterious glass eye (possibly Mikhail’s?), but as with The Staff, the writers are most likely done with The Arrow.
The Swan station was of course THE HATCH that dominated Seasons 1 and 2. It housed a computer with a very specific set of instructions – the numbers 4-8-15-16-23-42 must be entered every 108 minutes. The Swan was built over a vaguely defined electromagnetic anomaly that was threatening enough that one-time Swan resident Desmond Hume believed he was “saving the world”.
The station was created in response to “the incident” in 1977, when a Dharma scientist drilled too deeply into the anomaly. Or the anomaly was caused by Juliet blowing up the core of the Hydrogen bomb right next to the anomaly – it still isn’t clear.
In 2004, when Desmond neglected to enter the numbers, some sort of electromagnetic spike occurred, causing Oceanic 815 to crash. After the survivors entered The Swan, Desmond abandoned his post for a time, only to come back to help Locke put an end to the button-pushing. As the station underwent some sort of meltdown, Desmond turned a fail-safe key, which made the station implode, the sky go purple, and Desmond psychic.
For all that, we still don’t know anything specific about the energy being kept in check, or why the fail-safe key couldn’t have been turned earlier, as – beyond the destruction of the station – there were no real consequences to it being turned.
Additionally, Kelvin Inman appeared to have been recruited to the station after the purge, and the Dharma Initiative was still resupplying the station in 2004, so The Swan station still provides a link between the contemporary events on the Island and the mysterious organization.
The most pastoral of the Dharma stations, The Flame was a solo operation, first for Radzinsky in the 1970s, then for Mikhail after the purge. For the most part, The Flame was a convenient setting – a place for Sayid, Locke, and Kate to stumble upon in 2004, and for Radzinskyto hang out separate from the rest of the Dharma Initiative in the 70s.
The purpose of the station seems to have been communication, and certainly Mikhail used it as a way to gather information on the survivors of Oceanic 815. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that the Dharma Initiative has extensive access to personal records, so I imagine that is what Mikhail must have been accessing – he seemed to have more than Google to work with, anyhow.
Ultimately, how the Dharma Initiative and the Others accessed this information isn’t particularly important, and the rubble left behind when a houseful of C4 exploded probably won’t be picked through.
This was the second Dharma station discovered by the Oceanic 815 survivors, and like The Swan, was revealed as a metal hatch sunk into the ground. The alleged purpose of The Pearl is to observe the “psychological experiment” taking place in The Swan.
When this element was introduced back in Season 2, it served the purpose of making Locke question the importance of entering the numbers and pushing the button at The Swan. By the end of the season, it was implied that the true psychological test subjects were the personnel in The Pearl.
This station doesn’t seem to be very well thought out beyond its presence as a red herring in Season 2, so I don’t expect to see it back. At the very least it did provide the wonderful, incongruous image of a mountain of plastic tubes interrupting the lush green of the Island late in Season 2.
I like to think of The Orchid as The Swan’s cousin. Both were built over mysterious energy sources on the Island, and understanding the Dharma Initiative’s interest in the two stations seems like the key to unlocking their overall purpose.
The Orchid’s greenhouse exterior hides an underground chamber that possesses the ability to manipulate space and time. It is beneath the Orchid that both Ben and Locke are able to fling themselves into the near future in Tansania. It’s not clear whether the Dharma Initiative ever reached the frozen room with the wooden wheel that moved both those men and the Island, but they did get close enough to access some of its energy.
The secrets beneath The Orchid seem too important to be left hanging.
Polar bears on a south pacific island? A shark branded with the Dharma logo? How did these things come to be? Apparently, it stems from the zoological work done at the station on the auxiliary island off the coast of the Island the Oceanic 815 survivors crash-landed on.
Under Ben, the Others did much of their work there, including building the runway that Ajira 316 would later use. Most famously, it is the place where Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were taken after being captured by the Others at the end of Season 2.
Why the Dharma Initiative thought it was important to study polar bears in this climate is an interesting question, but most likely not an essential one. The fact that the show has already explained that the Dharma Initiative brought the bears to the island is probably enough.
The Looking Glass
The site of Charlie’s last stand at the conclusion of Season 3, The Looking Glass was an underwater communication station. The primary purpose of the station was to jam communications coming from the Island, though it could also be used for communications as well, as Charlie showed when he contacted Penelope Widmore.
There seems to be some redundancy between The Flame and The Looking Glass, but I suppose putting a second communications station underwater when you’re worried about hostile natives makes sense.
Not a very well thought-out station, LOST writers. Sure, having a facility that manufactures lethal gas is wicked convenient when you need to kill everyone you know (as Ben did in the purge) or if you want to cast doubt on the intentions of new characters (as the writers did when Charlotte and Daniel went to deactivate the plant), but why an organization as inherently benevolent as the Dharma Initiative would go to the trouble of having something that lethal seems out of character.
The Lamp Post
This one makes me groan. I guess having a surprise Dharma station located conveniently off-island (and even more conveniently, in Los Angeles) was a necessary evil in terms of explaining how the Oceanic 6 would get back to the Island, but it’s a stretch. This one isn’t really a stretch since its purpose and origin was laid out in one big, expository dump, so unless there’s a connection between The Lamp Post and what Daniel was doing off-island in the 70s, we’ve probably heard the last of it.