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Finding the Constant: Desmond Bounces Back on "Lost"

Um, wow. I don't often find myself speechless after an episode of most television series but after last night's installment of Lost ("The Constant"), I had to sleep on it before I could gather my thoughts together.

In a brilliant episode linked thematically and narratively with last season's groundbreaking Desmond-centric episode "Flashes Before Your Eyes," we got a few answers to some looming questions and were posed a few new queries as well. Like its predecessor, "The Constant" didn't actually feature any flashbacks or flash-forwards, instead showing the effects of poor Des getting "unstuck" from time (to borrow the phrase used by the past-tense Daniel Faraday and "Slaughterhouse Five").

The episode picks up from when we last saw Sayid and Desmond, as they boarded the helicopter bound for the mysterious freighter. Frank, under strict instructions from Faraday, is told to fly directly along the same vector as when they flew in, one which takes them right into the heart of the thunderhead.

And that's where everything goes wrong. We've always known that the island has some pretty unique properties, including the ability to remain hidden and nigh unbreachable, and that time is completely out of whack in this particular sphere of the world. (As evidenced that for Jack and the other castaways, nearly a day has past, and Faraday's time experiment on the island.) Add to that the fact that Desmond was pummeled with massive amounts of electromagnetic energy (when the Swan imploded at the end of Season Two) and you have a recipe for disaster... or the Casimir effect. Desmond's consciousness begins to drift back and forth between the "present" (read: island) and the past, where he finds himself back in the military and estranged from Penny.

Time. Desmond's relationship to time has always been tenuous at best. Just look at his experiences with Mrs. Hawking in "Flashes Before Your Eyes." According to her, Desmond has to turn the key and has always turned the key. Time is fluid but the outcome is always the same and the universe has to course-correct itself. Desmond is the embodiment of course-correction, keeping doomed Charlie alive long enough to have him wind up sacrificing himself in the Looking Glass in order to (A) contact Penny and (B) discover that the freighter staffers are not what they appear to be.

It's only fitting that it's newcomer/physicist Daniel Faraday who gives Desmond the information necessary to free himself, sending him on a path towards Daniel's past-tense self, then a brilliant if misunderstood researcher at Oxford University exploring the boundaries of time. In order to prove that Desmond has been to the future, Farrday gives him a frequency 2.342 (those cursed numbers again) and tells Desmond to tell his past self that he knows "what happened to Eloise."

Eloise is, of course, the lab rat that Faraday is using to test his theories. Thanks to Desmond, he manages to unstick her from time and have her run a maze that he hasn't yet taught her how to run. The maze is a particularly apt metaphor for the plot of this story: complex, labyrinthine, and potentially confusing; the characters have to get from point A to point B but naturally get lost (heh) along the way when they end up on the island... which seems to remove them completely from the linear nature of time. It's now as if they can be plucked from their present state and plonked down at whatever point in their history seems fitting (the flashbacks). Which begs the question: has Time itself become unfettered?

Faraday exposed himself to massive amounts of radiation during his experiment (twenty times a day, in fact) and, in a nifty final act reveal, has managed to unstick himself from time. Which explains quite a lot: his crying fit in "Confirmed Dead" when authorities uncovered the "remains" of Oceanic 815, the need for his caretaker in Essex, Massachusetts, what Naomi referred to as his "head case" status, and his apparent memory loss on the island (see his card "game" with Charlotte). Daniel Faraday, like Desmond, is unstuck from time and he left himself an entry in his journal to use Desmond Hume as his "constant" should this occur.

The Constant. I love the idea of the constant in this entire scenario; it somehow makes the entire head-spinning notion of time travel (whether physical or subconscious) more palatable and mathematic: instead of an abstract concept, it's rather like an equation. Both sides need to balance against each other and to do so there needs to be a constant. For Desmond, that constant is Penny, who is clearly aware of the island (most likely via her father) and waits for eight years (like her namesake Penelope from "The Odyssey") for Desmond to call her on Christmas Eve. That call is what saves Des from the effects of the time disease (for lack of a better term), which is driving Minkowski (guest star Fisher Stevens) insane and eventually kills him, like Eloise, from a massive brain aneurysm. (The sickness was why Regina and the freighter crew members didn't want him getting on the phone.)

So could Desmond, who has appeared in several characters' flashbacks, be the constant for all of them? Cue the Twilight Zone music...

Questions. As for the other questions this episode raised: who is Ben's man aboard the freighter (it's obviously not Minkowski) and did they sabotage the communications equipment aboard the vessel? Who left the door of the sick bay open for Sayid and Desmond to escape? Where is Regina aboard the vessel? Why were they expressly forbidden from answering Penny's communique? Curious.

Finally: who is the captain of the freighter?

The Numbers. Recurrent numbers are once again popping up on the series. In addition to the use of the cursed numbers in Faraday's experiment (2.342) those same numbers turn up at the auction house where lot #2342 is being auctioned. Not so coincidentally, the lot is a journal belonging to the Black Rock's first mate that is on offer, from seller Torvar Hanso. (Thank God, a Hanso reference!) The winning bidder? Charles Widmore, of course, who uses his bidding number of 755 to win the auction; 755 is the same numbers as the ratio Farraday discovers between Desmond's catatonic state and his perception of past time (75:5).

Lost Guest Star of the Week: Fisher Stevens, who finally appeared on-screen as communications officer Minkowski... only to get offed by the end of the episode. But given his unsticking from time, I fully expect to have him turn up at some other point this season.

Freighter staffer Keamy was played by Kevin Durand, who appeared in the film Smokin' Aces with Matthew Fox. He's also had roles on Touching Evil, Dark Angel, and Stargate: SG-1.

Finally, before you ask, it wasn't a coincidence that after the Black Rock lot at the auction house, an item belonging to Charles Dickens was up next. If Lost has taught us anything (besides quantum mechanics, the use of literary allusions, and interwoven narratives), it's that nothing on this series is a coincidence. Dickens' novel, "Our Mutual Friend" (a very apt title indeed) is the book that Desmond brings on board his boat and which he claims will be the very last thing that he reads...

Next week on Lost ("The Other Woman"), it's a Juliet-centric episode (yay!).Juliet gets a visit from someone from her past and gets orders to prevent Charlotte and Faraday from completing their mission, while Ben offers Locke an enticing deal. I can't wait!


Anonymous said…
what an amazing episode!!!

could desmond's "sickness" be the same thing that happened to the other people on rousseau's ship??
could it be the reason for the hatch quarantine also?

And also, Desmond was taking some injections in the hatch...could that be the same thing the doctor was giving minkowski on the boat?

can't wait for next week!
Jace Lacob said…
Jordy, my thoughts EXACTLY!

It could also point towards the mystery of why Aaron and Alex are so special: neither one of them had a life before the island. They are born on the island and are therefore separated from the time sickness.

As for the sickness of Rosseau's crew, I think it's definitely related. Both came in via the ocean during a storm and the team was likely also exposed to EM radiation...
The CineManiac said…
This was by far the best episode Lost has had in a long time, which is saying something in such a strong season.
Hands down amazing, and with lots of answers and new questions all at the same time.
And your theory that Desmond may be the constant for them all, brilliant!
Anonymous said…
Jeremy Davies deserves an Emmy!
Anonymous said…
Amazing! The flash-sideways as I like to call them are awesome. And how attractive is Des all clean shaven?!
rockauteur said…
I agree with Jordy... I think this could be the "sickness" that befell Rosseau's crew... And very good thought about the injections...

I think we will defintely see more of Minkowski - I was shocked they kicked off Fisher Stevens so quickly... I think we'll at least see more of him in freighter flashbacks next season, and I'd love to see his backstory and find out how he intertwines with the crew... Hopefully we will meet Regina soon and find out who Ben's man on the boat is...
Unknown said…
I loved the Vonnegut reference -- "unstuck in time". As soon as he said it I recognized at as the opening line of Slaughterhouse Five, and it really helped make sense of what was going on.

Besides answering all of the questions, and advancing the story, the episode was an excellent homage to Kurt Vonnegut, even though he was never mentioned by name.
Anonymous said…
Great episode, but trying to wrap my head around the whole time travel thing gives me a headache.

But none of the castaways are traveling through time, so what separates them from Aaron, exactly?
Anonymous said…
@Anonymous: Who is to say that the castaways aren't all traveling back and forth in time? It would explain why the flashbacks have been part of the show since the beginning.

A great episode from an already great season. As always I love to read your thoughts and theories, Jace.
Anonymous said…
Pearl, I dig the phrase "flash-sideways." That's the perfect name for it!

Fantastic episode and fantastic post! It helps to see it all mapped out like that. Desmond is by far one of the most interesting characters and I'm really liking the Daniel Faraday character too and Jeremy Davies' portrayal of this "mad" scientist is superb!
Anonymous said…
Mah head. It spins.

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