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Lost: An Exploration of the DHARMA Station Mysteries

The discovery of the hatch in Lost was one of the biggest mysteries of the show’s early years. I can’t tell you how much time I spent theorizing about what was under that door. How many people were down there? What were they doing? Why did it say “Quarantine” on the hatch? Would opening it unleash some kind of sickness? I don’t think any of us could honestly say we expected to find something called a DHARMA station and one man entering numbers into a computer in order to save the world while listening to “Mama” Cass Elliot down there.

We wanted answers and even though we perhaps got a few, all opening the hatch did was open a huge can full of new questions to ask. Most of those questions revolved around the DHARMA Initiative and what they were up to on The Island. The baffling first orientation video we see teases just enough of the DHARMA Initiative to make us beg for more. They were a whole new mystery, a whole new group of people, and they seemed to be functioning on The Island. But where were they now and where were the other stations?

If the video told us anything it was that this was the third station on The Island, so there were at least another two out there just waiting to be discovered. It would take time but eventually, we would be introduced to even more DHARMA stations, each with their own unique purpose and mystery. But did we ever really see all of the stations? If the blast-door map is anything to go by then there is at least one unseen station on The Island, and considering The Lamp Post was located in Los Angeles this opens up the possibility of there being more elsewhere in the world.

Let’s take a look at the stations we did see and what we know of their true purposes.

The Staff

The entrance to The Staff station

When I think of The Staff Station, it’s hard not to be reminded of the blaring alarm noise that featured so prominently in Claire’s flashbacks of the facility. Used by The Others as a medical station primarily focusing on women and pregnancy, we first found out about The Staff Station after Claire was taken there during her kidnapping by Ethan. He and The Others had originally intended for Claire to give birth to Aaron there and even went as far as creating a nursery complete with an Oceanic Airlines mobile.

Interestingly, we never got to see an orientation video for this station which would have you believe that it was nothing more than a basic medical station. So why was it so far away from everything else? The barracks had its own infirmary that we saw get used on numerous occasions. The station contains a secret vault-like room which shows that there was a lot more going on here. A hidden room within a hidden station—that’s not suspicious at all, is it? My guess is that they were using it to research “the sickness” that the Man in Black used to infect and recruit his followers. The vault door would keep the afflicted prisoner in a medical environment and keep the researchers safe from violence.

In 1985, two years before the demise of the DHARMA Initiative, something happened to cause them to completely abandon The Staff Station. The blast-door map refers to it as AH/MDG incident but it’s never explained or shown to us what that actually is. It’s more than likely the incident had something to do with the damaged ceiling in the main corridor, though. If the Man in Black found out about DHARMA’s research into the sickness, he could have shut down the facility in some way and damaged the ceiling in the process. Was that the incident?

Sometime after the purge, The Others took over the station and used it for their research into why pregnant women were dying on The Island. This is why Claire was later taken to the station. It was also used by them as some kind of hideout which they eventually fled from, leaving behind their costumes and fake beards.

The Arrow

The tail-section survivors discover The Arrow station

To me, The Arrow is one of the most interesting stations, largely down to the fact that we never got to fully explore it. DHARMA stations always held some sort of secret purpose but this one was so basic and bare that there had to be a hidden area somewhere. Its original purpose was to gather information on The Island’s hostiles and then develop defense strategies for how to deal with them. But doesn’t that sound so dull for a full-blown station? Surely that sort of planning could have been done at the barracks—unless this station predates the barracks and this was DHARMA’s original base of operations when they first arrived on The Island.

Given that The Arrow appears more bunker-like than the others, I believe its original construction had something to do with the U.S. Army who came to The Island in the 1950s. Perhaps this is where they intended to hide out if they’d have successfully carried out the hydrogen bomb test with Jughead. DHARMA could have then found the abandoned bunker and converted it into their first station as it would require zero construction.

Horace is the only DHARMA member that we see with The Arrow Station symbol on his overalls. So what was he up to out there? It makes little sense that someone whose occupation is both a leader and a mathematician would be assigned solely to a station that deals in hostile activities. It’s these details that lead me to believe there was a lot more going on there: something potentially much more important than all of the other stations. It’s the only station to have had all of its equipment and items removed since its abandonment.

By the time Mr. Eko and the other tail-section survivors find The Arrow Station it has long been empty, with only a few items remaining. These include a Bible (which contained the missing pieces of The Swan orientation video), a two-way radio, and a glass eye. Were these items of any relevance at all or were they simply left there by Radzinsky during his probable mental breakdown in the lead-up to his suicide? Whatever was going on with him prompted him to paint “Quarantine” on the door (later discovered to be a hoax). Why did he need to trick people with the quarantine? Perhaps he hid something of greater importance there and this was his way of keeping people away from it.

The Pearl

Eko and Locke discover The Pearl Station

The Pearl Station’s true purpose will forever be something of a mystery. Video feeds in the background of the orientation video imply that those stationed here were to monitor the activities of those working in The Swan Station. But were they only ever monitoring those people and were their recordings of any significance at all?

I think it’s interesting to note that there are nine screens for observation in total and, excluding The Pearl, there are nine other DHARMA stations that we know of. So maybe they were watching all of them as it seems unlikely that they were only watching The Swan, which was built before it. When Sayid fiddles with the feeds much later, he’s able to tune in to a camera watching The Flame, which adds weight to the possibility that all other stations could be watched at some point. Could they see The Lamp Post without realizing it wasn’t even on The Island?

The orientation video also hints that pushing the button in the hatch is of no significance, something which we now know to be completely untrue. Add this to the fact that the notes The Pearl Station workers kept on the other DHARMA workers were pointless (the pneumatic tube dumped them in the jungle) then we have to ask: who was this psychological experiment really on and what was it?

The most obvious explanation is that The Pearl’s true objective was to keep The Swan’s purpose a secret. If other DHARMA members were, in a way, being brainwashed to believe the station and pushing the buttons had no real significance, then nobody would have any reason to think otherwise. The Swan is likely the most important of all the DHARMA stations so it’s understandable its function would want to be kept under wraps.

This would mean that The Pearl served no purpose other than to trick people into believing something that was untrue, hence why their research notes were irrelevant. But why were they being watched by a secret camera? It is likely that this was just to make sure everything was running as it was meant to and in case of any incidents.

After this, The Pearl was used by The Others to watch the survivors and monitor their movements within The Swan.

The Flame

The Flame Station satellite dish

The Flame looks boring, right? Unlike the other DHARMA stations, this one was simply used for communicating with not just the other stations on The Island but also the outside world. But did it conceal more secrets than just communication? It’s one of the only stations that had been rigged with a self-destruct device due to the C-4 explosives planted in the lower levels. It’s unknown why they would have preferred the station to self-destruct as opposed to it falling into the hands of the hostiles. This leads me to believe there was more to it; it’s just hard figuring out what that is exactly.

My main line of thought is that DHARMA simply didn’t want The Others to make any sort of contact with the outside world. Their work on The Island is likely a secret that they wouldn’t want to be exposed to anyone. The U.S. Army had found The Island once before, so potentially there was nothing stopping them from finding it again to stop DHARMA’s work. We never did find out how they originally found The Island and traveled to it safely with a nuclear weapon. The DHARMA work on The Island wasn’t exactly safe so it’s more than likely they would have been shut down.

It’s a possibility that The Flame Station had more control over the other stations than was realized. It had cables running out to every one of them and was once referred to as “the hub.” Maybe once upon a time, it had the capability of shutting down any of the other stations should they fall to the hostiles or fail in their purpose.

During the late ’70s, Radzinsky was the sole operator of The Flame before his deployment to The Swan. This was probably how he obtained information on all the other stations that existed, he just didn’t know where they were all located. It would seem that no matter your status in the DHARMA Initiative, you were never privy to all the information, which is presumably one of the reasons he created the blast-door map.

The Flame Station (and the secrets it carried) were all destroyed by Locke after he triggered the self-destruct sequence.

The Hydra

Sawyer in the polar bear cages

Another burning question on fans’ lips during the first couple of seasons was “where on earth had those bloody polar bears come from?” I don’t think any of us expected to spend a good chunk of the third season in the polar bears’ cages but at least we got an explanation as to where they’d actually come from.

The Hydra Station is built on a smaller island located at least a couple of miles away from The Island and focuses more on zoological research. It isn’t just polar bears that are studied here, though. Remember when we saw that shark with the DHARMA logo on its tail? It’s safe to assume it came from The Hydra Station. Birds were also used in genetic alteration experiments and became known as hy-birds, but what happened to them? We see the odd glimpse of them and hear their “Hurley” cry but apart from that we never get a really good look at them. They’re obviously better at hiding in their surroundings than the other animals. The animals either escaped sometime after the purge or were set free by The Others.

It’s not just animals that are experimented on here; humans became test subjects, too. Being the largest DHARMA station there was obviously going to be lots to discover (like the infamous Room 23). I remember being truly fascinated by Room 23 when we discovered it and I still am. There’s still a lot to analyze and discuss in that brainwashing video.

DHARMA wanted to learn all about The Others and would go about kidnapping them in order to interrogate them. They wanted to learn about their way of life, how they came to be on The Island, and, most importantly, their following of Jacob. It would be really interesting to discover what was revealed during those interrogations as there’s still so much left unknown about so many members of The Others (particularly their origins, who they were before The Island, and how Jacob brought them there). After the interrogations are carried out, the subjects are drugged and made to watch the brainwashing video that would make them forget what had happened and what information they had given away.

Other notable facilities at The Hydra Station include the building in which Jack was held prisoner before he operated on Ben. The operating room was more likely to have been used as a study hall during animal operations. There’s also the aquarium where the marine mammals were kept during research.

Some years after The Hydra Station was abandoned, Charles Widmore used it as his base of operations when he returned to The Island. It’s almost as if he knew that Hydra Island was empty and he could set up his defenses almost undisturbed. The only people left there were the passengers from the Ajira flight (whom he denied killing). Strangely, though, I believe him and would much rather think that the Man in Black was the murderer.

I still don’t know how The Others knew that a runway needed building on Hydra Island for a plane to land and take off from years later.

The Orchid

Jack and Locke meet in The Orchid Station

The Orchid Station presents itself as a greenhouse specializing in botanical research, but beneath the surface was one of DHARMA’s biggest secrets: time-travel research. The greenhouse was a front and a closer examination of the station logo reveals that. The first time you see the logo you would obviously see one big spiral, but look a little closer and the optical illusion reveals itself: it’s really a group of concentric circles. All you have to do is look a little closer in the greenhouse and all will be revealed: a hidden laboratory.

The lab was built around another pocket of The Island’s energy with the intention of harnessing it in an attempt to manipulate time itself. The pocket of energy was also once the site of a well created by the early inhabitants of The Island (including the Man in Black). They constructed several wells as a way to try and find the heart of The Island, all of which led to a pocket of similar energy. They hoped to find the answer as to why their compasses behaved strangely whenever they were near these areas. The Man in Black discovered that he could utilize The Island’s source from this particular pocket of energy and escape to the outside world. We, of course, know that he was stopped by Mother.

But at some point in time, an unknown person completed that wheel and The Island’s exit was created. I think we can assume that the Man in Black was the one to finish the work or it was at least completed by someone on his behalf. He knows of its completed existence and in his long game, he manipulates both Ben and Locke into turning the wheel, resulting in them being dumped at the exit somewhere in Tunisia. They weren’t the only ones to be dumped there either.

Pierre Chang tells us in the orientation video that once the polar bears have completed their initial training at The Hydra Station they’ll be brought to The Orchid. We can guess that they were then trained to turn the wheel so that experiments could be carried out without any danger coming to the researchers. This is backed up by the fact that Charlotte discovers polar bear remains in the Tunisian desert many years later.

During the original discovery of the frozen wheel, the excavations are halted by Pierre and it’s unknown why or when they resumed unearthing it. We also don’t know how many polar bears turned the wheel but we can assume that at some point an incident occurred causing the DHARMA Initiative to once again brick up the frozen wheel chamber. Instead, a small vault-like room was constructed nearby and they harnessed the energy without using the wheel.

The Looking Glass

The survivors infiltrate The Looking Glass Station

As a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, I was particularly excited to discover that one of the DHARMA stations would be named after Through the Looking-Glass. This isn’t the only time the series of books are referenced in the show: white rabbits (the station’s logo is one) are a recurring theme, Jack reads part of the book to Aaron, and more. It isn’t the only time a station references a literary classic either as The Lamp Post is a nod to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But what is The Looking Glass and how does it relate to the book?

Constructed 70 meters below sea level, The Looking Glass is easily one of the hardest stations to find. Had it not been for the schematics found by Sayid in The Flame, this station could have remained a secret for a much longer amount of time. This level of secrecy is the possible reason behind its name.

In Through the Looking-Glass, a mirror is seen as a one-way viewing device. When someone looks through the mirror they can’t be seen by whoever is on the other side. The way sunlight reflects off of the surface of the ocean almost resembles the reflection from a mirror. Therefore, if the ocean is a mirror then the survivors of the Oceanic crash don’t know they’re being watched by the people on the other side. It’s a truly unique station with a unique purpose.

The station itself aided submarines that came to The Island from the outside world by emitting a sonar beacon to them. This at least provides an explanation as to how submarines could come and go so frequently.

Even after The Looking Glass was taken over by The Others, they still used it for its original purpose, but only if you were one of the privileged few. Ben wanted communications to and from The Island blocked so he created a lie that the station had been flooded due to an accident and was thus inaccessible. It’s likely that a factor in Ben jamming communications was to prevent the DHARMA Initiative from ever finding The Island again. I imagine that at some point after the purge the DI would no doubt try to make contact with The Island to find out what had happened, but they obviously never succeeded in finding it again.

It’s hard to think about The Looking Glass and not be reminded of Charlie’s death, arguably one of the saddest in the show’s history. We can’t really be sure what happened to the station after those events but it’s possible that Charlie disabling the jamming system played a part in Charles Widmore’s submarine successfully making it to The Island at a later date.

The Tempest

Juliet visits the abandoned Tempest Station

The Tempest is another station we know very little about when it comes to its original purpose. All we know is that it was created as a place to manufacture and study deadly gases. But what were they going to be used for?

The Others seized control of The Tempest and eventually used it in the purge: the event which wiped out the DHARMA Initiative. But was the gas only ever meant to wipe out the hostiles? I know this is a popular theory but to me, it doesn’t ring true. What if it was to eventually be used on themselves? I have no doubt that DHARMA would have used the gas on the hostiles should the conflict have continued to escalate, but that wouldn’t have been the gas’s only use.

DHARMA loved its secrets and even kept a lot of things from its own employees who were working on The Island. In actual fact, a lot of its staff weren’t just there to work; they were there as part of secret experiments and psychological tests. The data and statistics probably meant more than the people did. It’s this kind of thinking that makes you realize that perhaps the DHARMA staff was dispensable. I believe that once DHARMA’s research was complete and their true goal achieved that they’d have had no qualms about disposing of their staff (with only a select few leaving The Island). It would be an efficient way of ensuring their work, The Island, and all of its secrets were known only to a select a few.

It’s more than likely that the gas would have been deployed through the Cerberus vents, which would enable it to spread around The Island much more quickly. These would be the same vents that the Smoke Monster used to travel underground. It’s a possibility that these vents were part of the series of wells that the early inhabitants of The Island created.

Eventually, Daniel and Charlotte neutralize the station’s deadly gases to prevent Ben from using it again.

The Lamp Post

The pendulum locates a window in time in The Lamp Post Station

The Lamp Post was the only DHARMA station we saw that wasn’t on The Island, which begs the question: are there any other stations out there in the world?

Presumably built in the 1960s over a unique pocket of electromagnetic energy, this station (or, more precisely, its pendulum) was how the DHARMA Initiative originally found The Island. This would potentially make this the first-ever DHARMA station. It would have taken years to research and build a station like this one, which means it could actually pre-date the founding of the Initiative. Only once The Island had been located could the DHARMA Initiative be properly formed and it’s true work be carried out: manipulating scientific laws to change any of the numbers of the Valenzetti Equation—in other words, saving the world from its destruction.

But why did they need The Island to do this? Was it because their true research would never be discovered by an outside source due to The Island always moving? Or was it actually because the main cause of humanity’s self-destruction—the Man in Black—lived on The Island? If he ever got off The Island his infection of people’s ideas and actions could spread his evil on a large scale very quickly, resulting in humanity tearing itself apart. Or maybe they even sought out the heart of The Island to stop the light going out but could never find it.

None of those things could have ever been discovered by DHARMA had it not been for the huge pendulum that swung across a map of the world in The Lamp Post. But who built it? All we ever learn from Eloise Hawking is that it was created by a “very clever fellow.” Was that fellow the mathematician Horace? Gerald DeGroot? Alvar Hanso himself? Or even Jacob? We know he was instrumental in bringing people to The Island in his quest to prove that man wasn’t as evil and corrupt as he’d been taught. Under the guise of a scientist, he could have provided DHARMA with the tools and information they needed to build the pendulum and find The Island.

After the demise of DHARMA, it was taken over by Eloise who seemingly manned the station single-handedly. Presumably, this was so she could stop Charles Widmore ever discovering The Island again before he was actually meant to. If anything, she always seems to know who should be where and at what point in time it should happen.

This is the one station that is a direct visual representation of the show’s central theme: science versus faith. The Lamp Post is the science and the church it’s under is the faith, except this time the two have been brought together, a lot like the ending when everything and everyone comes together one last time in the same church.

The Swan

Jack explores The Swan Station within the hatch

Probably the most well-known DHARMA station, The Swan served as one of the main settings of the show throughout the second season. It was the first station that we saw and it would later be revealed that it played rather a large part in the crash of Oceanic 815.

After discovering another pocket of energy far more powerful than that located at The Orchid, the Initiative once again decided to try and harness it. Construction began in 1977 based on the blueprints drawn up by Radzinsky and the whole thing was kept a secret. At this point in time, a truce between DHARMA and The Others had been created with one of the rules being that no deep drilling can take place in hostile territory. Seeing that this station broke the truce, Pierre Chang ordered it to be labeled “confidential.” It’s during its construction that the incident occurred.

I don’t need to remind you of all the details regarding the survivors and their plan to detonate a bomb in The Swan construction site. What we don’t know is exactly what happened when the bomb went off…if it even exploded at all.

I’m of the belief that the bomb never exploded and the “incident” that is frequently referenced was nothing more than the attack on the construction site, the bomb almost going off, and the survivors vanishing. If a bomb had gone off, DHARMA wouldn’t have survived, the station wouldn’t have been built, and a lot of The Island would have been destroyed. But why didn’t it go off? The simple answer is that Juliet is a candidate, as we see “#58 BURKE” written on the wall of the cave. One of the unwritten rules of candidacy is that you can’t kill yourself if you have unfinished business with The Island. It’s this rule that brings me to the conclusion that Juliet could never have detonated the bomb and killed herself.

What killed her was the injuries she sustained from falling down the drill hole, which wasn’t her fault or doing. When Miles passes on her final message of “it worked,” it’s nothing more than a message of confusion. Juliet has arrived in the flash-sideways afterlife and assumed that everything has worked as she’s yet to realize she has died.

The Swan Station is still built and eventually, Desmond will arrive there to enter the numbers into the computer system. Eventually, he would enter the numbers too late causing the build-up of electromagnetic energy to rip Oceanic Flight 815 out of the sky. This is the way things had to happen: The Swan, the computer, the numbers, Desmond, and the crash were always going to happen no matter what.

The new recruits arrive at the DHARMA barracks

So there we have it: my in-depth look at all things DHARMA station and some of the mysteries that surround them. All this discussion and I didn’t even get to talk about the DHARMA logistics warehouse and the mysteries that place and its staff could hold. But that’s a discussion for another time…

There are still so many mysteries left when it comes to the DHARMA Initiative, their stations, and their staff and we’re going to need a hell of a lot of dynamite from the Black Rock to blow open that hatch of answers. Let’s hear your thoughts and theories in the comments. Until next time, namaste and good luck!


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Written by Martin Hearn

Martin Hearn is a Social Media Manager for 25YL who also writes, has a penchant for interviews, watches too much TV, and plays too many video games. He joined the site through his love of Twin Peaks and also has a passion for shows such as The OA, The Crown, American Horror Story, Lost, and Desperate Housewives. His hobbies include insomnia, dancing in secret, and buying too much Twin Peaks merchandise from eBay. Martin lives in Middlesbrough, UK, which is the birthplace of the Parmo (you may want to google that amazingly beautiful delicacy that definitely won't cause a heart attack). He loves spending long weekends binge-watching TV shows with his partner Anthony.

One Comment

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  1. Hey Martin, nice read. My favourite station was “The Door” hehe. The biggest “whoah” moment was the blast door, with the map – it also showed interconnecting passages between most stations. Very intriguing ! I guess it’s fair to assume that all of the stations where about “research”. Dharma wanted to know more about how people are affected by the island, how animals area affected and so on.

    Our favourite Doctor explained many “social experiments” and I have no doubt that they where watching to see how not only the island, but the “inhabitants” (dead or alive or in other forms) affected all aspects of them.

    Dharma, like many other humans, wanted more from the island. I have no doubt that they discovered the time travel aspects to benefit the funding of Dharma, Hanso etc etc…
    I think the only ones who really understood the island, in the end… Rose and Bernard. Living simple live and not trying the use or abuse the islands powers.

    Whilst the candidates brought balance back the the island, I feel that Rose and Bernard where the true heros, in my opinion. I like to think they lived there for a VERY long time.

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