"The Variable" is the fourteenth episode of Season 5 of Lost and the hundredth produced hour of the series as a whole. Daniel hatches a plan that could drastically change the fate of the survivors. Flashbacks explore Daniel's struggles in his relationship with his mother Eloise Hawking. It was first broadcast on April 29, 2009.
Previously on Lost
- Daniel tells Desmond to go back to Oxford where they first met so Desmond can find Daniel's mother to stop the time flashes on the Island. ("Because You Left")
- Eloise Hawking warns Ben that if he can't get the Oceanic Six back to the Island, "then God help us all." ("The Lie")
- Ben tells Charles Widmore that he's going back to the Island just as soon as he kills Penelope, before shooting Desmond. ("Dead Is Dead")
Young Daniel plays the piano.
A young Daniel is playing a piano in his home. ♪ His mother, a middle-aged Eloise Hawking, suddenly appears in the doorway, watching him play. Daniel asks her opinion of the music and she tells him that it is wonderful. However, she chides him for wasting his time on frivolities such as music. She claims that he has a scientific mind which he must dedicate entirely to science and mathematics. She claims that it is her job to keep him on the path, and that there is no time for distractions. Daniel claims that he can make time, but she disagrees, closing the piano. ♪
Daniel with Theresa after his graduation ceremony.
Several years later, Daniel is graduating, receiving the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) at Oxford. As he walks out of the college with Theresa Spencer, they are met by Eloise, who coldly responds to Theresa's repeated attempts of bonding with her, and requests to have lunch alone with Daniel. Theresa complies despite Daniel's protests, leaving Daniel and Eloise to go to a curry restaurant. Daniel is hurt by Eloise's rudeness to Theresa, because she is his girlfriend. Eloise tells him that he has no time for women, and that he must focus entirely on his work. Daniel mentions that he is the youngest doctor to ever graduate from Oxford, and that he received a £1.5 million research grant from Charles Widmore. Eloise relents, apologizing to Daniel and telling him that she is not there to fight with him. She stands to leave, but not before giving him a wrapped gift. After she leaves, Daniel opens it; it is a leather journal. ♪
Widmore offers Daniel an opportunity to go to the Island.
In 2004, Daniel is watching a news report regarding the wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 being discovered by the Christiane I. He begins crying about it, and when asked why he is crying by his caretaker, he replies that he doesn't know. Daniel then receives a visitor: Charles Widmore. The two discuss Widmore's grant, the following research and Daniel's dismissal from Oxford. Daniel shows remorse over Theresa, mentioning that he tested "it" on himself before her. Widmore notices Daniel crying and asks if he said something to upset him. Daniel replies it is because of the discovery of Flight 815's wreckage and that he doesn't know why its bothering him so much other than it's a sad situation. Widmore replies that they aren't dead, because he faked the wreckage. He feels secure in telling this to Daniel because, due to Daniel's recently developed memory issues, Daniel will forget the entire meeting. Widmore offers Daniel a job working on the Kahana and going to the Island, which he claims will heal Daniel's mental problems. When Daniel comments on how similar Widmore sounds to Eloise, Widmore remarks that he and Eloise are "old friends". ♪
A short time later, Daniel is playing the piano when he is visited by Eloise. ♪ She asks if Daniel has been offered a job, to which he affirmatively replies, but states that he is incapable of doing the job due to his memory loss. Eloise eventually persuades Daniel, however, by telling him that going to the Island will make her proud of him. He eventually agrees to do so. ♪
On the Island (1977)
Daniel confronts Jack about his return.
Daniel arrives on the Island via the Galaga, and is greeted by Miles. Daniel tells Miles that he is back due to his discovery in Ann Arbor of a photo of the new recruits showing that Jack, Kate, and Hurley have returned to the Island. He demands to be taken to Jack's house. Miles complies. Once at Jack's house, Daniel frantically questions him on how he returned to the Island. Jack mentions a plane, and says that Daniel's mother, Eloise Hawking, persuaded him to get on the plane. Daniel asks Jack if Eloise spoke about destiny, to which Jack says yes. Daniel tells Jack that his mother was wrong, and that Jack does not belong there; whether meaning on the Island at all, or in the DHARMA Initiative in 1977, is unclear.
Phil is being held captive in Sawyer's closet.
Miles agrees to Daniel's request to drive him to the Orchid to run "an errand," leaving behind an inquisitive Jack. Jack knocks on Sawyer's door to inform him Daniel has returned and has headed to the Orchid. Sawyer responds that he is too busy to help, but is persuaded by Juliet to explain his predicament: Phil, tied up in the closet, is in possession of the surveillance tape incriminating Sawyer and Kate in their attempt to save Ben's life by taking him to the Hostiles' camp.
Daniel attempts to warn Chang of the upcoming incident.
Daniel and Miles end up at the Orchid station just in time to witness the arrival of Pierre Chang. ♪ Leaving Miles in the Jeep, Daniel follows Chang and Eric inside and overhears Chang's discussion with Tony, the foreman, regarding the danger of drilling deeper into the rock (and potentially releasing dangerous energy). Daniel walks in (bumping into an impatient Chang, who is leaving) and has a brief exchange with Tony, who is highly skeptical of Chang's theories about space and time. Daniel then approaches Chang, who remembers Daniel's arrival to the Island with LaFleur. Daniel explains that it is necessary to begin evacuating the Island, as the magnetic energy unleashed by DHARMA construction work has caused injuries. When Chang responds skeptically and insists that the energy has been contained, they board the Orchid elevator to the surface and Daniel explains that in six hours, a catastrophic accident will occur at the Swan station. Chang demands to know why Daniel considers himself qualified to make such a prediction, and Daniel reveals that he has arrived "from the future."
Miles denies that he is Chang's son.
Daniel follows Chang outside the Orchid, where Chang accuses him of "having a little fun" at his expense after overhearing his comments about time travel. Daniel produces notes from his journal as evidence he is speaking in good faith, but is interrupted by Miles. Daniel catches both off guard by revealing that Miles is Chang's son; Miles denies this. Chang tells Daniel, "please stay away from me," and departs in his DHARMA van. Miles then confronts Daniel about the reveal, who explains that he is only getting Chang to do what he is "supposed to do."
Sawyer and Daniel attempt to form a plan.
Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, and Hurley meet in Sawyer and Juliet's home to discuss their options. According to Sawyer, they must either leave the Island by submarine before they are caught, or head into the jungle to "start from square one." Jin refuses to leave as long as there is a possibility he might be reunited with Sun, and Hurley supports staying as well. Before they can continue their conversation, they are interrupted by the arrival of Miles and Daniel. Daniel asks where he can find the Hostiles and explains that his mother is among them, and furthermore, that she is their only hope of getting back to where they belong. It is not clear whether he means off the Island or back to the present (2007).
Daniel reveals to Charlotte the shape of things to come.
Sawyer refuses to assist Daniel, but Jack enlists Kate's help in taking Daniel to the Hostiles' camp. Juliet provides the code (141717) to the sonar fence and makes the case that they should help Daniel as "it is over for us here, anyway." Sawyer argues that Jack is making a mistake and that he, Jin, Hurley, and Juliet will meet them at the beach when their plan inevitably fails. ♪
On the way to the motor pool, Kate and Jack discuss how to obtain weapons, and Daniel tells them to go on without him and that he will catch up. Daniel then approaches a young Charlotte, who is playing on a swing set nearby. She tells Daniel that she isn't allowed to eat chocolate before dinner, and introduces herself after Daniel assures her he won't tell. He tearfully tells Charlotte that she and her mother must leave the Island with Dr. Chang; he explains that he tried to avoid telling her this because he did not believe he would be able to "change things", but hopes that "maybe" he can. ♪
Radzinsky aims his gun at Jack and Faraday.
As Jack, Kate, and Daniel are arming themselves near the motor pool, they are interrupted by Radzinsky and two other DHARMA workers. When Radzinsky sees their weapons, he accuses Daniel of lying about the group's intentions, and a firefight ensues when Daniel tries to make a getaway. Daniel is grazed in the neck by a bullet, and Radzinsky is shot in the arm. As Jack, Kate, and Daniel make their way to the Jeep, Jack opens fire on a fuel tank, causing a tremendous explosion. They escape as the dust settles, and Radzinsky calls for someone to "sound the alarm." ♪
Jack treats Daniel's wound.
Upon arrival at the sonar fence, Jack treats Daniel's neck wound as Kate enters the code provided by Juliet. Daniel reminds Jack that 1977 is now "their present," and as such, they would do well to remember that they are still at risk of injury or death regardless of their presence in the future.
Meanwhile, Juliet and Sawyer are packing to leave for the beach when they are interrupted by the alarm. Angry and injured Radzinsky and his assistants burst into Sawyer's house and inform Sawyer of the situation, much to Radzinsky's horror quickly discover the bound and gagged Phil. Enraged he forces Sawyer and Juliet to surrender at gunpoint.
Faraday explains to Jack and Kate the concept of a "variable".
When Jack, Daniel, and Kate stop at a creek to rest, Jack asks Daniel to explain his intentions. Daniel reveals his knowledge of the impending disaster caused by a massive energy release at the Swan station. He explains that as a result of this, the installation they know as "the hatch" will be built as a precautionary measure to contain this energy and prevent future incidents. Over the next 20 years, he explains, it will be necessary for DHARMA to keep this energy at bay by pressing a button; ultimately, Desmond's failure to do so will cause the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. Daniel tells Jack and Kate that his studies of relativistic physics have revealed the relationship between the "constants" in this equation and the "variables." The variables, he says, are people—specifically, their choices and free will may allow them to change their destiny. Daniel then reveals his intention to set things right by detonating a hydrogen bomb in an attempt to negate the catastrophic energy release, thereby preventing the events that led to Oceanic 815's crash. ♪
A young Eloise Hawking is shocked to discover she shot her son.
Jack, Daniel, and Kate arrive undetected at the Hostiles' camp, where Daniel fires two warning shots into the ground and demands to speak with Ellie. Richard Alpert appears to recognize Daniel, but insists that Eloise is not there. Daniel asks Richard at gunpoint where the hydrogen bomb is buried, and as Richard attempts to talk him down, Daniel is shot from behind by Eloise Hawking. Bleeding out, Daniel tells Eloise incredulously, "You...knew this was going to happen, but you sent me here anyway." When it is apparent that Eloise does not recognize Daniel, he reveals, in his dying breath, that he is her son.
Desmond is rushed to Marina Medical Center Long Beach.
Desmond, after being shot by Ben, is rushed to the hospital to undergo surgery. A desperate Penny is left outside with her son Charlie. She is approached by Eloise Hawking, who comments that Charlie has his father's hair. Eloise reveals that she knows Desmond, and that his injury is her son's fault. Penny asks if Eloise's son is Ben, but Eloise replies instead that it is Daniel. Eloise apologizes for her son's actions. Penny asks Eloise if Desmond will be all right, but Eloise says she does not know. Eloise says that for the first time in a long time she does not know what will happen next. Soon afterward, a nurse approaches Penny and tells her that Desmond is in the recovery room; implying the surgery was successful. Penny leaves little Charlie with the nurse and rushes to meet Desmond, who reminds her of his promise that he would never leave her. ♪
Widmore and Eloise discuss Desmond's fate and sending Daniel to the Island.
Eloise leaves. As she exits the hospital, she is approached by Charles Widmore, who asks about Desmond's condition. She replies that Desmond is fine, and that his daughter is inside the hospital, suggesting that he goes and talk to her. Widmore remarks that he has sacrificed his relationship with Penny. Eloise replies angrily that Widmore knows nothing about sacrifice; she had to send her own son to the Island. Widmore retorts that Daniel is his son as well. Eloise slaps Widmore across the face and leaves.
- This episode was billed by ABC as the 100th episode of Lost. In the United States, 100 episodes is generally considered a significant milestone for a series, as it is usually the point at which it becomes viable for syndication. There are exceptions to the 100-episode rule however, and Lost was one—it had begun its first-run syndication in September 2008 on the American cable channels Sci Fi and G4.
- Lost has had several two-hour season finales, but due to the nature of syndicated programming (airing fixed-length installments), the television industry considers an episode in this context to be one hour.
- The original broadcast date of the episode, April 29, 2009, was coincidentally United States president Barack Obama's 100th day in office. ABC aired Obama's press conference for the event immediately preceding the episode.
- Daniel wears a jumpsuit with the name of "Joe" and job title of "Constructor".
- This is the first and only time of the entire series that Hurley and Daniel see each other.
- In the scene where Daniel cries in front of the television set depicting the recovered Oceanic Flight 815 and Charles comes to visit him, the exact same comic sits on Daniel's couch as was used in Richard's test on a young John Locke in a flashback.
- Daniel is the 7th character to die in their centric episode, the others being Shannon, Ana Lucia, Mr. Eko, Nikki, Paulo, and Locke.
- This is the last episode of the series to feature flashbacks interspersed with on-Island action and focused on only a single character. "Follow the Leader" had no flashbacks, "The Incident" features flashbacks from multiple characters, and much of season six featured flash-sideways instead. The last two episodes to feature flashbacks, "Ab Aeterno" and "Across the Sea", broke from the traditional format and were mostly flashback.
- This is also the last episode in the season and the series as a whole to feature events which take place off island in present time.
- Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond) appears in present-timeline for the first time since "316".
- The L.A. plot is a real-time event that follows from a flashback in "Dead Is Dead". That episode featured the reverse, a flashback that follows from a real-time event in "Whatever Happened, Happened".
- In the American broadcast of the episode, the Lost title sequence was suddenly placed among stars, with a Starship Enterprise soaring through the "O" in Lost as part of a promotion for J.J. Abrams' new film Star Trek. 
- Confirmation that Charles Widmore staged the wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 was also given the previous week in the recap episode "Lost: The Story of the Oceanic 6".
- To celebrate filming this episode Jorge Garcia ordered a specialty cake from Charm City Cakes, the bakery featured in the television show "Ace of Cakes". It was featured in their episode LOST in Hawaii. (Ace of Cakes)
- An extended version of the scene by the river where Daniel explains his theory to Jack and Kate is on the Season 5 DVD. In it, he brings up a metaphor about stones and boulders: how a pebble (small change) won't alter the course of a river, but a boulder (big change) will. The transcript can be found here.
Bloopers and continuity errors
- In the continuation of the scene from "Confirmed Dead" in which Daniel reacts to the news of the faked Oceanic Flight 815 crash, Daniel's hair is shoulder-length, whereas in the old scenes from season 4, he has short hair. His beard is slightly different as well
- The orange oil filter seen in the motorpool during the shootout is an aftermarket Fram filter with SureGrip. In 1977, Fram filters were orange with black print and did not receive the additional SureGrip feature until the early 2000s.
- In the first scene of "Because You Left", Dr. Pierre Chang wakes up at 8:15 a.m., takes a shower, feeds the baby, shoots a take of the orientation video for the Arrow and only then is he called to the Orchid because of the sick worker. However, in this episode, it is clearly around 6:00 a.m. when Daniel briefly questions Jack about the reason for his return to the Island, and then he is immediately taken to the Orchid where he sees Dr. Chang and the same sick worker.
- The locker that Daniel picks up his helmet from mysteriously disappears when he bumps into Pierre. This is probably because the writers had not integrated this prop while writing "Because You Left".
- Daniel would not have been allowed to graduate wearing a black tie - a white bow tie is the only acceptable clothing for males graduating at Oxford.
|Animals • Black and white • Character connections • Children • Coincidence • Death • Deceptions and cons • Dreams • Economics • Electromagnetism • Eyes • Fate versus free will • Games • Good and bad people • Imprisonment • Isolation • Leadership • Life and death • Literary works • Mirrors • Missing body parts • Nicknames • The Numbers • Pairings • Parapsychology • Parent issues • Pregnancies • Psychology • Rain • Redemption • Relationships • Religion • Revenge • Salvation • Secrets|
- Eloise accidentally kills her son, Daniel Faraday. (Life and death) (Parent issues)
- Eloise believes firmly in fate, while Daniel realizes that he can use free will to change destiny. (Fate versus free will)
- While Eloise and Penny talk about Desmond's fate, a nurse reports that he is fine and in the recovery room. (Life and death)
- Jack tells Sawyer that Kate "can say what she wants to say." (Fate versus free will)
- Faraday has a tough relationship with his mother. (Parent issues)
- Daniel learns that Eloise and Charles Widmore are old acquaintances. It is also revealed that Widmore is Daniel Faraday's father. (Character connections) (Relationships) (Parent issues)
- Both Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore deceive Faraday into going to the Island. (Deceptions and cons)
- Present-day Eloise acknowledges she knew Daniel was going to die on the Island, at the same time Widmore reveals he has sacrificed his relationship with his daughter. (Sacrifice)
- Phil is trapped in the closet. (Imprisonment)
- Sawyer calls Daniel "Twitchy" and "H.G. Wells," Kate "Freckles," and Jack's group "Yahoos". (Nicknames)
- Daniel reveals to Dr. Chang that Miles is Chang's son. (Secrets)
- Daniel tries to spare young Charlotte from dying on the Island years after. (Relationships)
- Eloise isolates Daniel with science, taking away music and Theresa. (Isolation) (Relationships)
- Widmore redeems Daniel's mistakes after his maligned experiments with Theresa by offering him a job on the Kahana. (Redemption)
- Young Daniel says clearly, quite ironically, that he can "make time" for the things he wants to do. (Time)
A white rabbit visible in Daniel's glass.
- While Eloise and Daniel are eating, a white rabbit can be seen in the distortion of Daniel's wine glass. (Animals)
- Daniel Faraday is revealed to be the son of Charles Widmore, which makes him Penelope Widmore's half-brother, Desmond Hume's brother-in-law and Charlie Hume's uncle. (Relationships) (Character connections)
- Daniel warns Dr. Chang about releasing the electromagnetism at the Swan site, and reveals his plan to negate it to Jack and Kate. (Electromagnetism)
- Radzinsky discovers Phil in Sawyer's closet and holds him and Juliet at gunpoint. (Imprisonment) (Secrets)
- The Numbers make several appearances in the episode:
- Young Daniel counts 864 beats of the metronome since he started playing the song on the piano. 864 is 8 times 108.
- Widmore supplies Daniel with a £1.5 million research grant.
- Faraday says that the DHARMA personnel will start drilling in about 4 hours.
- Faraday mentions to Richard the last time they met, in 1954, 23 years earlier.
- Faraday says that variables are people. The core values of variables in the Valenzetti Equation, were the Numbers, which are in turn revealed, in the following season, to represent people.
| Cultural references|
(direct references only)
|Art • Automobiles • Games • History • Literary works • Movies and TV • Music • Philosophy • Religion and ideologies • Science|
- H.G. Wells: Sawyer refers to Daniel as "H.G. Wells", who was a famous science fiction author known for his works The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and The Shape of Things to Come. (Literary works)
- Wired: Widmore moves over a copy of Wired magazine to sit on Faraday's couch. Wired is an American magazine that reports on how technology affects culture, the economy, and politics. The issue shown is the August 2003 "super power" issue, which dealt with X-ray vision, invisibility, and "A user's guide to time travel". Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams guest-edited the May 2009 edition of Wired (issue 17-05), including a numbers-themed puzzle on pp. 104-105. (Literary works)
- Happy Days: Hurley mentions Fonzie, a character in this television sitcom that originally aired from 1974 to 1984. The show presents an idealized vision of life in 1950s America. (Movies and TV)
- Chernobyl: Daniel mentions Chernobyl. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear reactor accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. It is considered to be the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history. (Science)
- Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, by Frédéric Chopin, is played on the piano by Daniel, both as a boy and again in 2004. Both times he is playing the main melody of the piece which formed the basis for the song I'm Always Chasing Rainbows. (Music)
- DVD: Miles telling Daniel "What the hell are you doing back here, Dan? Once you left for Ann Arbor, I figured you'd gotten rich, invented the DVD or something". (Science)
|Comparative: Irony • Juxtaposition • Foreshadowing Plotting: Cliffhanger • Plot twist Stock characters: Archetype • Redshirt • Unseen character|
Story: Flashbacks • Flash-forwards • Flash sideways • Framing device • Regularly spoken phrases • Symbolism • Unreliable narrator
- A metronome is used to mark the beats per minute of a song's time signature. Young Daniel was following the metronome while he played the piano, symbolizing time was in control over him. (Symbolism)
- Eloise tells Daniel that the women in his life will only be terribly hurt. (Foreshadowing)
- Widmore and Hawking both suggest Daniel will be healed by the Island, when in fact they both know he will be shot there. (Irony) (Juxtaposition)
- Eloise, Daniel's mother and giver of life, shoots him. (Irony) (Juxtaposition)
- Daniel tells Jack that "Any one of us can die" shortly before he is shot and killed by Eloise. (Irony) (Foreshadowing)
- Faraday thinks he's a "variable" and that he can change the past, but later acknowledges that his mother knew that this was going to happen, proving himself wrong. This demonstrates that a person (a variable) cannot act upon another to suppress, obstruct or nullify his actions and their consequences. (Plot twist)
- The phrase "whatever happened, happened" is used by both Sawyer and Daniel. (Regularly spoken phrases)
|A-Missions • Crimes • Economics • Leadership • O-Missions • Relationships • F-Missions • Rivalries • S-Missions|
- The survivors split in two groups again, one led by Sawyer (who wants to leave the Island once and for all) and the other led by Daniel (who wants to use Jughead to prevent Oceanic Flight 815 from crashing). (Leadership)
- Sawyer and Jack revive their old rivalry. (Rivalries)
- Eloise and Widmore, once presumably lovers, became estranged after they both left the Island. (Rivalries) (Relationships)
- Daniel reveals his plan to use Jughead in order to prevent the Incident from ever happening. (A-Missions) (F-Missions)
- Radzinsky believes there is an infiltration and tries to defend his people at gunpoint. (Crimes)
- Daniel explains that the chain of events which lead to the crash of Oceanic 815 begin in 4 hours. ("Pilot, Part 1")
- Daniel says that as the result of Oceanic 815 crashin on the Island, him, Charlotte and Miles will all be sent on the freigher. ("The Beginning of the End") ("Confirmed Dead")
- Faraday cries when seeing the Oceanic wreckage. ("Confirmed Dead")
- Faraday mentions that he has a memory disorder. ("Eggtown")
- Eloise gives Faraday a journal as a graduation gift. ("The Constant")
- Widmore admits to faking the Oceanic 815 wreckage. ("Meet Kevin Johnson")
- Daniel travels down to the Orchid to investigate the problem caused by the drilling near the wheel chamber and bumps into Pierre Chang. ("Because You Left")
- Faraday references the Other Ellie being Eloise Hawking. ("Jughead")
- Richard vaguely recalls meeting Faraday some 23 years previously. ("Jughead")
- Faraday mentions that he performed the time travel experiments on himself before Theresa. ("Jughead")
- Young Charlotte tells Faraday that she's not allowed chocolate before dinner, which are also later her last words. ("This Place Is Death")
- Jack reminds Kate she told him never to ask her what happened to Aaron. ("316")
- Faraday has a facsimile of the picture of the new recruits, including Hurley, Jack, and Kate. ("Namaste")
- Desmond is rushed to the hospital for a gunshot wound inflicted by Ben. ("Dead Is Dead")
- For fan theories about these unanswered questions, see: The Variable/Theories
- What is the nature of the falling out between Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore?
- How and when did Eloise leave the Island?