The more I think about The Variable, the more I think it is one of the most crucial episodes of Lost this season, maybe ever. I've seen a lot of disappointment around the Lost-verse that the ep didn't deliver, that it didn't have more Desmond or what not, and I kind of understand it a little bit. Mainly I think the episode failed to knock it out of the park because the acting was a little iffy at times: Daniel Faraday crying was not a good thing as acting goes. And Daniel Faraday the grownup on the swings with Charlotte the child was kind of icky, at least to me. I knew they'd show us that scene eventually, but it played out very awkwardly imo.
Still, The Variable has stuck in my mind like few episodes have. It hinted at so many big, nay HUGE, things: game-changing things even. And it also managed to finally humanize the odd character of Mrs Hawking. Up until now I've felt that she's been an odd duck. She kind of worked as Desmond's mysterious time-oracle, but when we saw her in LA with the pendulum, she just seemed... weird. Too school-marmish, too heavy on the hair and accent and too imperious and mysterious. I love Fionnula Flanagan, and I wonder if some of the awkwardness of the character came from her not knowing the most important fact about her: that she had killed Daniel, her own son. Actors on the show often don't know stuff like that until it's in their scripts. And maybe the weirdness and non-realism of her character was increased because the writers kept a tight reign on her so as not to reveal her true past.
Because Hawking's past introduces a MAJOR new puzzle piece. And I mean major. As in game-changer. She has had the most horrible life I could imagine: raising a child you KNOW you are destined to one day kill, even though you don't want to. Either she thinks that the past and future can not be changed, or she thinks that changing things would be worse than even shooting her own child. In either case, it sucks. But does she really think it's all fixed and "whatever happened, happened"? Why then was she pushing Des so hard to not change his mind about Penny? Why was she pushing Daniel so hard? If there is only one way for things to play out, then why work so hard making them go a certain way? Her behaviour instead seems to hint that it IS possible to change the way things play out, but that she is convinced it should NOT change. Even at the price of her son's life.
She told Desmond that he had to get to the island and push the button "to save the world". Maybe that was the truth? Maybe that is what she still thinks she is doing? Is she sacrificing her son to save the world?
The wider implication of The Variable is this:
Eloise Hawking knew from 1977 that she would kill her son. She will also see his journal, and probably take possession of it. She will read it and find out everything Daniel will work on in the future. She will know Desmond is his constant. I think both she and Widmore will be working from the 70s onwards to make things happen the way they happened. Whether they do so in collusion or separately. That is why Eloise raises Daniel the way she does, and that is why Widmore treats Desmond the way he does.
But it doesn't stop with Des and Daniel. Probably Eloise in 1977 will meet at least Jack and Kate, if not all the losties. She knows they have a part to play too. Will she manipulate their lives too? Will Widmore? Did Widmore and Hawking manipulate ALL the losties lives so that they would all end up on flight 815 and crash on the island? And how does Jack's reason for being on the flight - the death of his father - figure into that? Was that also a manipulation? And what role does "the island" play/ed?
I think what The Variable hints at is that there might have been a long-standing conspiracy to get not just Des and Daniel to end up on the island, but the other losties as well. It also hints that things CAN be changed because of the way Daniel managed to "send a message" to Desmond by talking to him in the past, telling him to contact his mother. Was that a new twist? It certainly seemed to be something Hawking had not counted on.
Hawking is now a majorly important character. I hope we get to see more of her. This more human and tragic version of Eloise is a lot more compelling than the mysterious oracle, and I hope to see more of her both in her on-island incarnation and in Fionnula Flanagan's off-island Hawking. Hawking's and Widmore's roles have suddenly jumped to the forefront. And so has Des. He might not have gotten a lot of screentime in The Variable, but he is still vitally important I bet.