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Piercing the Veil: Dawning Recognition on Lost

"None of this is real." - Charlie

Imagine a world where you managed to achieve your heart's desire. Would you be questioning the nature of the universe around you? Or would you be so complacent that you'd be blinded to what's actually going on until cracks started to form in the seemingly perfect veneer of your existence?

It's the latter that has given the Lost-X (or "sideways" timeline) some of its heft this season on Lost as several of the characters have begun to feel an eerie sense of deja vu or a biting sense of frisson in which they seemed to realize, if only for a split-second, that something was "off" with the world and their place in it.

This week's magnificent episode of Lost ("Happily Ever After"), written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and directed by Jack Bender, offered the biggest clues yet to the real function of the Lost-X timeline as Desmond was forcibly returned to the island to participate in Widmore's test, a test that would have serious consequences for every single living person in the world should he fail.

A lot of speculation has been made about just what the Lost-X timeline actually is, with many critics and viewers jumping on the bandwagon that is the epilogue for the entire series. I've never been one of those who believed in this theory and last night's episode went a long way to disproving it all together.

So what did I think of last night's episode? Grab yourself a glass of MacCutcheon, make your way to baggage carousel four, buckle your seatbelt, and let's discuss "Happily Ever After."

Personally, I thought that "Happily Ever After" was hands down the best episode of the season, even if it didn't feature many of the main cast members (other than Hurley, Jin, and Sayid, all very briefly). But what it offered was a new prism through which to see the sixth and final season and it placed a significant weight on just what was unfolding within the Lost-X timeline, pushing it and the main timeline closer together while making each of them vitally important.

The Lost-X timeline isn't the ending for Lost, nor is it just a way of revisiting relationships and characters we haven't seen in a while. It's the very crux of the entire season, the outcome of Jack and Co.'s efforts to detonate Jughead, and it's resulted in each of the characters having their consciousness split between these two realities.

The alternate timeline established when Juliet detonated the hydrogen bomb at the future site of the Swan is just as "real" as the mainstream one but it's a divergent timeline that I believe will require--as I've said several times before in the past--the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 to raise the island from the ocean floor and recork the bottle. This is a world where each of them has received their heart's desire but it's made them unable to see what's truly happening around them, making them little more than sleepwalkers in an eternal battle that they're blind to.

In other words: someone needs to wake them up.

While watching "Happily Ever After," I turned to my wife and said, "Des is Layla Miller?!?" with a chuckle. For those not in the know, Layla Miller is a comic book character introduced during Marvel Comics' "House of M" storyline a few years back. Without getting too sidetracked, here's the gist of the storyline: the Scarlet Witch, once one of Earth's mightiest heroes and a mutant wielding the power to warp reality, succumbed to madness and killed several of her teammates before disappearing with her father, the evil mutant Magneto.

The heroes banded together to deal with her but suddenly the world went white and they found themselves living in another world, where each of them had--aha!--been granted their heart's desire and where mutants ruled the world under the House of Magnus. But not everyone was happy in this seemingly idyllic paradise and eventually--thanks to young mutant Layla Miller--many of the heroes were "awakened" and realized that the world around them was fake, created by the Scarlet Witch to trap them and keep them docile. Layla had ripped through the veil separating their consciousness from the truth about the world and then set out to overthrow the House of M and return the world to the way it was meant to be. Of course, there was a price to be paid...

The sixth season of Lost would seem to owe a debt to "House of M," whose themes and narrative devices Lost has cribbed from a bit this year, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Desmond would seem to be cast in the role of Layla Miller, someone whose main purpose is to remove the heroes' blinders and grant them the ability to recognize that their world is inherently wrong and not meant to be. Each of them has already experienced moments where they realized this on a subconscious level but there's a difference between a second of realization and full-blown recognition. That's where Desmond comes in.

Desmond, after all, had survived--as Charles Widmore puts it--a cataclysmic electromagnetic incident that rendered him able to shift his consciousness to other timelines. We saw evidence of this in "Flashes Before Your Eyes," where Desmond visited an alternate reality and attempted to change his fate, before Eloise Hawking intervened and pushed the timeline back into place. Given that he's already been charged with subatomic particles, he's the ideal candidate to deliver a message to the other timeline.

This supposes several things. One, that Widmore has known all along that Desmond activated the failsafe in the Swan Station and experienced an electromagnetic incident. (Check.) Two, that Widmore also knows about the existence of the alternate timeline and that the Incident split time into two streams, one of which is the current mainstream reality and the other in which the island doesn't exist. Three, that recreating the incident could transfer Desmond's consciousness into the other timeline or give him a multi-dimensional awareness (much like Juliet possibly experienced at the bottom of the Swan shaft). Four, that it's possible to bring these divergent timelines back together again somehow or that there's a way to safeguard their own reality by tweaking things in the Lost-X world.

Invisible threads of fate bind each of the Oceanic Flight 815 passengers together and their paths continue to cross as they are forced back together in an act of course correction. While their flight never crashed on the island, these individuals are still of vital significance to the island, which hasn't finished with them yet. (Or started, one could argue.) Everyone who set foot on the island in the mainstream reality--from Daniel Faraday to Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking--will need to band together to change the world, to cast off the illusion that this world is the right one, and sacrifice their own happiness in order to put things right. The cracks are growing bigger...

Desmond. Given the importance of Desmond in the overarching mythology of the series, it was only fitting that his first episode back would been entirely Desmond-centric. Returning to the island by way of Charles Widmore's, er, undersea hospitality, Desmond is the subject of a crucial test ordered by Widmore to test his resilience in the face of an enormous electromagnetic energy wave that would fire any lesser man. (Though I do wonder if they should have attempted to test it first on the bunny Angstrom, named for the physicist whose moniker is used to to measure "lengths on a scale of the wavelength of light or interatomic spacings in condensed matter.") Instead, Widmore orders Zoe and Seamus to conduct the test on Desmond straightaway.

But that's not before Desmond attacks Widmore. I mean, if your supposedly evil and estranged father-in-law kidnapped you, tearing you away from your wife and son, and brought you back to a place of unspeakable torment from which you had only fairly recently escaped, you'd be pretty angry too. But if we see Widmore not as pure evil but rather a man for whom the ends justify the means, much of his actions throughout the series can be perceived as acting to protect the island, particularly if he knew that Ben would be the one to kill Jacob and therefore allow the Man in Black to potentially escape his prison via a loophole.

Widmore tells Desmond that he'll have to make a sacrifice in order to save the entire world, a fact that Desmond finds ironic as Widmore has never had to sacrifice anything in his entire life. But not so: he willingly gave up his relationship with his daughter Penny, allowed his son (Daniel Faraday) to die on the island, and has never even met grandson Charlie. Everything he's done has been in service to the island.

The Mission. Desmond, of course, does survive the solenoid dosing (though does experience burns over his body, indicating that he doesn't quite come through the test unscathed) and now understands his mission on the island. His sudden docile nature and willingness to work together is vastly at odds with his behavior before the test (given the fact that he attempted to bludgeon Widmore with an IV stand). Just what does he "understand"? His actions inside the solenoid chamber would seem to point toward the fact that he is aware of the other timeline (his hand is raised here, just as it was in the Lost-X timeline) and knows that he must do something involving the two divergent realities. But what?

While he's ready to get to work with Widmore and his team, Desmond is also all too willing to along with Sayid when the assassin shows up, kills his escorts, and demands that Desmond comes with him. But why exactly? Was that his mission all along? To make his way to the Man in Black? The way that Desmond just says "Of course, lead the way," either points to that fact or to Desmond having some knowledge of what's to come in the days ahead.

But perhaps it doesn't physically matter where "our" Desmond is because half of the mission has already been started: Lost-X Desmond will begin to gather the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 and wake them from their slumber. Things are already in motion.

Lost-X Desmond. While some might wonder just why--if Desmond got what he always wanted (or thought he always wanted)--that he's been split up from Penny, that's not really his heart's desire. What Des has always longed for is the approval of the one man who would never give it: Charles Widmore. In this reality, Desmond is an unattached single man whose entire life revolves around his career and his job working for Widmore, here happily ensconced in an office in Los Angeles with a stash of MacCutcheon whiskey and a provocative painting of scales (symbol alert!); he's also married to Eloise and his son, Daniel, is a classical pianist. Eloise is hosting an event and Desmond is sent on a mission to ensure that Charlie Pace, about to be released from jail after his suicide attempt, is at the concert to perform with Daniel.

And that's when things start to go wrong, or right depending on your point of view. Charlie, in the moments before death, experienced a shift of consciousness that displayed another reality, one in which he was in love with Claire Littleton. (In fact, it would seem that the main thrust of the entire series is love, actually.) He wants to show Desmond something, proof that their lives are wrong and that their world is a lie. He seizes control of Desmond's car and drives it into the ocean (in fact, right near the dock where Desmond had been living with Penny and Charlie). Under the water, Desmond attempts to save Charlie (echoes of Season Three) and has a vision of a similar incident in which Charlie pressed his hand against the glass of the Looking Glass Station (another instance of a looking glass, in fact!) and Desmond read the words, "Not Penny's Boat."

While Desmond was unable to save Charlie in the mainstream reality, here he successfully rescues him from drowning and the incident forces a switch to be flipped inside his brain, a switch that's all the more potently felt when Desmond undergoes his own test in this reality, an MRI at the hospital. An MRI, after all, is an example of magnetic resonance imaging, in which a "powerful magnetic field [is used] to align the nuclear magnetization of (usually) hydrogen atoms in water in the body." Or succinctly: more magnets, which allows Desmond's consciousness to connect to the other reality and send back images of Penny. Unable to withstand the mental onslaught, he pushes the button (dun-dun-dun) and demands to see Charlie... who is attempting to flee the hospital.

Charlie does give Desmond an important piece of information, telling him that none of this is real and that he has to find Penny. His first clue comes when he goes to tell Eloise that Charlie won't be appearing at the event. But she's eerily calm about it, despite George Minkowski--here Desmond's driver in this reality--warning him about her temper. But Eloise just shrugs it off, offering yet another example of that old Lost adage, "whatever happened, happened." Which made me wonder: did Eloise already know that Charlie wouldn't be turning up? And how much is she aware of the chasm between the realities?

The answer to the second question would appear to be answered somewhat by the heated exchange between Eloise and Desmond when he asks to see the guest list after hearing the name Penny Milton. (Why does Penny have a different last name than Charles despite being his daughter? Because he is still married to Eloise and never married Penny's mother. And, yes, Milton would clearly seem to be a reference to "Paradise Lost" author John Milton, a title that seems to offer a sharp foreboding about what's to come in the Lost-X world.) Whereas Charlie spurred Desmond on to find Penny, Eloise seems to be against it, saying that it is a "violation" and that he's "not ready yet." Hmmm...

Lost-X Eloise. It's interesting that the more Eloise protests, the more Desmond believes in the righteousness of his mission. But whereas Eloise offered a course-correction previously, here her hands seem to be tied and the use of the world "violation" seems particularly meaningful. Why is Desmond not ready to be enlightened about the truth of their world? If Eloise is once again aware of the divergent realities, why does she seek to prevent Desmond from seeing Penny? Or is it just that Eloise knows that Desmond will eventually meet Penny--that he has to in this universe as well--but that things are now unfolding not in the proper sequence or timeframe? Curious. I would have thought that this Eloise would have wanted things to course-correct, even if it means losing Daniel all over again...

Lost-X Daniel. Loved that we got a glimpse of Daniel Faraday, much missed this season. Here, Daniel too has achieved his heart's desire as he got to follow his chosen path to become a concert pianist rather than a physicist. Though he's plagued by a sense of deja vu, experiencing an otherworldly attraction to Charlotte Staples Lewis when he spies her in the museum, and an inexplicable talent at advanced quantum mechanics, something he couldn't have done had he not studied physics for years. Nice callback with the notebook, where this Daniel made a chart that included an axis that read real space, imaginary time. He believes that they changed things and that somehow, somewhere, he had detonated a nuclear device and altered reality. He tells Desmond that Penny is his half-sister and enables him to find her. Despite Eloise's efforts to keep the two apart, it's her own son that pushes Desmond and Penny together. Could it be that the universe is course-correcting, even without Eloise's influence? (Also loved the reflection of Daniel in Desmond's car window, another example of a looking glass.)

Lost-X Desmond and Penny. Desmond, of course, does come face to face with Penny, as she is runs up and down the stairs at the stadium, the same one where in the mainstream reality Desmond met Jack for the first time. Penny herself has a moment of deja vu upon meeting Desmond but his consciousness flashes over to the island when they actually touch, a moment of profound connection that bridges the chasm between the two realities. (We see this as Desmond wakes up, still apparently shaking Penny's hand.) The incident spurs Desmond to ask Minkowski to track down the passenger manifest for Oceanic Flight 815. Why? Because Desmond will begin to track down each of them and "awaken" their true consciousness, granting each of them the ability to become aware of the other world.

Which would put them on the path of putting the world right again--bringing the island back to the surface--in order to recork the bottle and get the genie (the Man in Black) back in his prison. But to do so, they'll have to sacrifice everything they hold dear in this world in order to chose a world that's more flawed--if proper--than their own. Yes, each of them will be faced with the choice to leave Eden behind in order to do the noble thing and each will be judged accordingly.

Would you give up a chance at love to put the world right again? If you got your heart's desire, could you turn your back on it? Is ignorance bliss or just blindness? With only five episodes remaining before the series finale of Lost, I think we're about to see things get increasingly dark as lives will be lost, alliances broken, and sacrifices made. If last night's episode is any indication of the road ahead, I dare say that we're in for quite a ride.

What did you think of this week's episode? Agree or disagree with the above theories? Were you struck by the similarities to "House of M"? Got predictions on just what will happen next? Head to the comments to discuss.

Next week on Lost ("Everybody Loves Hugo"), Hurley agonizes over what the group should do next, while Locke is curious about the new arrival to his camp.


Scott S said…
Doesn't The Matrix predate "House of M" -- a fake world where people get the life they want, in order to keep them docile? Neo has to be "awakened" to see the real world.

I'm not convinced it's a fake world -- Juliet's comment ("It worked") seems to me she could at least see an alt-world where they are happy (and with the bottle uncorked in the alt-world, I don't see any dark evil cloud turning humanity to dust either) -- unless I've missed something. If their universes are truly separate, I don't see any problem in one universe where things are hunky-dori and another where things have gone to the dogs.
Jace Lacob said…

Yes, The Matrix predates House of M but the Matrix didn't posit the warping of reality in order to ensure that people got what they wanted. It was a virtual reality (rather than a "real" one) that was definitely less real than the actual world.

Here, as in House of M, both worlds are "real," just one of them has been seemingly altered. The dead are once again alive, old enmities healed, new alliances formed, loves regained.

Neo had to be awakened but it was from an actual dream. Here, they're being forced to reckon with two very real worlds, one that's "right" and one that's "wrong."

And I believe that things are far from fine in the Lost-X world even without Smokey visibly flitting about...
A great review. I agree with most of the theory and where we are headed. I'm not sure that Charles knows about the ATL though. He may have kidnapped Des just to try to beat MIB, however Des clearly now has knowledge of the ATL in the Island one and vice versa due to the EM Box and the MRI.

Des clearly is on a mission to prevent the ATL that I now think Eloise may be behind.
Anonymous said…
I completely agree with your theory!!
Wes said…
Great episode! I'm glad you brought up the House of M/Layla Miller stuff because I kept thinking this ep reminded me of something but couldn't figure out what. I think EH is a major player in both worlds. Wonder why we haven't seen her back on the island since the 70s.
Heatherette said…
This was definitely my favorite episode of the season so far. Lots of drama and mystery but some questions answered too (and I always love the Des storylines). It was great to see Eloise (especially with that bouffant hair) and Faraday too.

That scene in the Lost-X world between Charlie and Desmond that paralleled the scene where Charlie drowned on the island was heartbreaking.
Anonymous said…
Why waste time (which, with only 7 episodes left, we probably don't have) tracking down everyone when Desmond in the Lost-X universe can just go to either the hospital where Jack works or the police station where Sawyer works and find all the important people?
Anonymous said…
"The alternate timeline established when Juliet detonated the hydrogen bomb at the future site of the Swan is just as "real" as the mainstream one but it's a divergent timeline that I believe will require--as I've said several times before in the past"

As opposed to what you've said before in the future? Or your flash sideways? ;)
tusaz said…
Not too sure, but I couldn't see Faraday's reflection in the car window, which could be an indication that in the MTL he has died quite some time ago.
KateL said…
Great post, Jace! I always come to your site the morning after.

Not only do I think Eloise knows about the other timeline, but some of her reactions last night made me wonder if she may have been complicit in creating it. Perhaps she decided that she didn't want to sacrifice her son, and wanted a world where that was no longer required. There are signs that she dotes on him in the Lost X timeline - allowing him to follow his desired path of becoming a musician, indulging his crazy rock/classical request for the charity event. Of course, this could simply be out of gratitude for getting what she most wanted, her son alive, as opposed to being required to sacrifice him, but I can't help but wonder if there is something more intentional going on. If this is the case, I wouldn't be surprised to see a connection between her and the Man in Black in this timeline.
Pom said…
I enjoyed the allusion to the end of Heaven Can Wait when Penny and Desmond meet at the stadium and make plans for coffee. A classic romance that gets me every time. Who doesn't want a second/third/fourth chance at love?
rockauteur said…
The interesting thing that technically two versions of Faraday could have been present in this timeline. If we assume that regular Faraday was shot and killed by Eloise in both timelines in 1977 island life, that would mean that Eloise/Widmore have met both Lost-X Faraday and alternative version of Faraday in the Lost-X timeline. Interesting. Wouldn't be surprised if Eloise still goes to the Los Angeles Dharma Station for some course correcting fun!

Another question though - who is Penny's mom? To me, she always seemed older than Faraday, which begs the question if her mother is an Other, or was someone just in the regular world. Could she be related to any other castaways?

Loved seeing Charlie and Faraday back in it, especially to see his drawings again from his notebook. Love that he is totally aware of the other timeline from a physics standpoint, and can't wait to see what Desmond's mission is in both timelines... And I'm going to predict that Eloise is in the island as well, having been aboard Widmore's sub as well, unless she needs to be at the LA Dharma Station for some reason. I think she is aware of all timelines, just like she helped guide Desmond after he time-shifted the first time.

Sayid can't be all bad if he was willing to let Tina Fay live, so his heart hasn't been all corrupted yet.

Great episode. I also had a weird theory that maybe Desmond actually died in Widmore's test, and is now embodied by Jacob, who used the test as a loophole to find human form again. I don't think its right but something to float anyway.
frank1569 said…
Yet another ace analysis and, agree, best episode yet.

But, if I may posit... I think last night changed the game completely. It's no longer about Smokey v Jacob - that thread is contained within the Island Timeline.

The bigger plot is now Widmore's 'war' - which is a War for the Timeline, not 'good' v 'evil.'

Widmore wants to kill the LAX Timeline - he hates his life there. Eloise wants to kill the Island Timeline and keep Daniel and her life of leisure.

There seems to be an as yet unrevealed 'rule' that says, at some point, only one Timeline can exist. The other must 'cease to exist' as Widmore keeps saying.

Now, Widmore's plan appears to be to send Des back to stop The Incident and, hence, the splintering of the 'mirror' Timeline, his 'sacrifice' being that he'll be stuck in 1977?

Des knows this. Des knows he now has the power to choose which life EVERYONE gets to have. That's why he so willingly went with Sayid - because he's already made his choice, and it doesn't matter which 'side' he's on in order to accomplish his 'mission.'

LAX Des, however, needs to show the Oceanic Six+ something - either the submerged Island, or... the Church basement, where maybe he/Eloise will be able to predict exactly when the Island will rise again? So that they may return and give that wheel a spin...?

"Live together, die alone." LAX Des needs/wants everyone to realize that one Timeline must die and the choice must be unanimous?

Which means each Candidate+ must choose - their 'bad' Island lives, or their 'good' LAX lives...

Ready? Season finale: CC and DL never reveal which Timeline is killed and which continues on, only that the Choice was made...
rustle said…
I found the eeriest part of this episode to be Charlie's actions, walking unconcerned through moderately heavy traffic and driving the car off the wharf... which strongly suggested that Charlie knew he was "really" dead and therefore could not be harmed. What would it be like to become aware of two realities, and to know that in the "real" one you no longer exist?
Jace Lacob said…

One could argue that, because Charlie's sense of the other world stemmed from a near-death experience (choking on the sack of heroin aboard the plane), he had a bit of a death wish... in an effort to recreate the sensation and "see" something again.
kat said…
Loved this episode. I got chills when Charlie's hand said "Not Penny's Boat". Great recap - your theories make so much sense and help to clarify the show for me. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Excellent analysis, but why was Desmond wearing a wedding band on the plane?
festie said…
has everyone forgotten the base mythology of this series? "lost" doesnt just refer to the fact that these people are stranded on an unknown island. i believe that "lost" is actually meant to mean that these people are all people that have pushed everybody away from them. they were all emotionally and spiritually "lost" long before they ever got on that plane in sydney. look at the parallels between the 2 "realities". when jack fixed his relationship between he and his son,on the island he finally for the 1st time truly accepted his role in the wider scheme of things. he IS a new jack.unfortunately my memory is failing me but for those of u that know this story like the backs of your hands think about when a character "fixed" something(or in sayid's case "broke" something)in the other reality. the character "fixed" something in the mainstream reality as well. this is 1st and foremost a story of redemption, or the pursuit and/or denial of it.having said all that, i think the other reality may also point to the way things were actually meant to be before these people became "lost". in fact i will go so far as to say that maybe the island's reality is actually the true divergent reality.after all, that nuke wasnt the only bomb dropped in the last six years. one man's opinion

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