By Jeff Jensen Apr 07, 2010
OH, THE HUME-ANITY Sideways Desmond and Island Desmond are starting to put things together.
''NOT PENNY'S BOAT.'' They might be the most chilling words in all of Lost lore. (Runner-up: ''We're going to have to take the boy.'' — Mr. Friendly, season 1.) When we first saw them penned in black marker on the palm of Charlie Pace's hand in the finale of season 3, they expressed a heartbreaking discovery. Desmond Hume's vision of escape, reunion with loved ones, and happily ever after for all the castaways was a lie at worst, plain wrong at best. Last night, a different Desmond plunged into the oceanic depths and read a different Charlie's palm. He saw nothing at first — and then he saw everything. In a flash, Sideways Desmond Hume forged a link with his Island world doppelganger and downloaded his memory of ''NOT PENNY'S BOAT.'' Yet what was a dispiriting moment for Island Desmond was full of spirit for Sideways Desmond. For him, ''NOT PENNY'S BOAT'' was a call to hope; a call to faith; a call to something more hopeful than the lonely island of himself. In the gloomy shadows of a watery underworld, the Scotsman with the famous philosopher's name found enlightenment.
And so did we. ''Happily Ever After'' was the episode we've been waiting for all season. At last! Contact! (As in: the Carl Sagan novel and Robert Zemeckis film adaptation.) Finally! Connection between the Island world and the Sideways world — a close encounter of the Sliding Doors kind. The moment came in ingeniously unexpected form — an ironic reprise of Charlie's unforgettable sacrificial death inside the Looking Glass. The scene was simultaneously unsettling and exhilarating, and next to Jacob's allegory of the wine bottle, it stands as the most significant moment of season 6 so far. For Sideways skeptics, I'm guessing the episode either won you over or scared you away for good. Let me more provocative: If you've been a Sideways hater, and you remain one after last night's episode, you may as well call it a wrap on your Lost interest and skip ahead to the rest of your post-Lost life.
For the rest of us, I'm guessing ''Happily Ever After'' moves into the arena where Best Ever Episodes are debated. It was a revelatory episode about the theme of revelation. It was an episode that played like an allegory for spiritual conversion, yet contained a subversive critique of religious experience. (Not that those points need to be mutually exclusive.) I thrilled to see old friends again, including Daniel Fara — err, I mean, Daniel Widmore, Eloise Hawking (sporting a poofy cloud of parachute-ball hair and a new symbolically loaded brooch), Charlie Pace, and the woman we knew once as Penelope Widmore, though I believe I heard her Sideways iteration identified as Penelope Milton. (As in Paradise Lost author-poet John Milton?) ''Happily Ever After'' was an episode that will force us to reconsider much of what we've seen in the Sideways world to date while also directing our attention to the end game of the show, which appears to be some kind of psychic exodus out of Island captivity into the quasi-Canaan of Sidewaysabad. Which souls will make the transmigration? Can some decline the opportunity? Indeed, the most intriguing possibility to come out of ''Happily Ever After'' — just a smidge more intriguing that the possibility that Charles Widmore could actually be a good guy — is that the castaways might actually have a choice between happily ever afters. Wow. See, Juliet? Free will does exist on The Island, after all!
This Island Earth!
Overture for the Overman
The opening eye. An iconic Lost motif, metaphor for epiphany, enlightenment, spiritual awakening, and the restorative power of... uhh... blinking? So many episodes have conspicuously doted on an eye pop, and typically when we get one, the sleeper awakens on his own. This wasn't that kind of eye pop story. As the episode began, we watched Desmond's lashes flutter as he slowly emerged from drugged slumber. We saw the camera pull back from Desmond's pupils to Zoe's fingers rubbing the feeder switch on his IV. Zoe: Greek for ''life.'' So began a story about characters helping other characters awaken with new life and see reality from a new perspective. SPECIAL LIMITED TIME OFFER! Construct your own crazy Doc Jensen Lost theory with my new ''Doc Jensen At Home Theory Making Kit!'' Just send me $299.99 and I'll send you a notepad, a pencil, a list of Wikipedia links, and a copy of Richard Linklater's 2001 movie Waking Life. Compare Desmond's Sideways journey in ''Happily Ever After'' to the Dazed and Confused director's acclaimed trippy semi-animated navel gazer. Bonus points if your 4000 word essay includes references to the film criticism of Andre Bazin, the revolutionary politics of Situationist International, and the book The Society of the Spectacle. Order your kit today!
Desmond tried his best to shake off the grog of his bad trip. He had been kept sedated during his submarine transit to The Island, perhaps because of the injuries sustained from Ben's gunshot wound (see: season 5, ''Dead Is Dead''), perhaps because Island commuters are best kept unconscious when they pass through the brain-scrambling temporal anomaly surrounding The Island (see: season 4, ''The Constant''), probably both. He began to get his bearings. He was inside the Hydra Station. He saw Charles Widmore. ''You?!'' Translation: My dastardly billionaire father-in-law! He who once denied me a job and deemed me unworthy of his expensive Scotch! I hate this guy! Desmond felt discombobulated. He needed grounding. He needed his constant. He needed his wife. ''Pennay!'' he called. (Penne?) (Mmmmm. Pastaaa....) Widmore replied: She's not here. Charles — whose tone couldn't have been more hospitable for a kidnapper — told Desmond he had brought him to The Island. Desmond — who last season vowed never to return his former existential prison — could barely suppress the snarl that wanted to curl his upper lip. Before Charles could finish his attempt at apologetically explaining himself, Desmond began beating Widmore's head with his IV stand. Desmond was restrained. Widmore mopped his bloodied brow and huffed: ''I can't take you back! The Island isn't done with you yet!'' It was the tone of a frustrated parent trying to talk some this is good for you so stop fighting me on this, dammit! sense into a stubborn, impudent child. And it was the same line that Ms. Hawking had told Desmond after he refused to take part in her Ajira 316 plan. Where was Island-world Ms. Hawking? We were not told.
Widmore then ordered his minions to prepare Desmond for ''the test.'' Zoe objected. ''The test'' was supposed to take place the next day. Interesting. It's clear that Widmore came to The Island with a timetable for how and when stuff should be going down. But for the second time in as many episodes, Team Widmore conspicuously went off-script. Last week, it was Zoe abducting Jin a couple days early, incurring Widmore's anger. Last night, it was Widmore caving to impatience and getting guff from Zoe. (The intrigue over the proper or expected timing of events was mirrored in the episode's Sideways storyline; more on that in a minute.) I'm wondering if these improvised decisions and seemingly rash actions will make a difference in the end — if Team Widmore's lack of discipline will yield an unintended, perhaps unwanted result.
As all of this family feuding was playing out, Widmore hostage/guest Jin watched and was confused. Why did Widmore kidnap Desmond? How will Desmond help in the war with Fake Locke? Widmore responded: ''It will be easier to show you than to tell you.'' Another thematic flag was planted: persuasion via demonstration and manifestation; via showing, not telling; via something that could pass muster with an empiricist like the one Desmond David Hume was named after. Still, can't the eyes be deceived? Can't the senses be tricked? Can't the mind be duped? The writer of The Society of the Spectacle would say yes. So would any number of cynics about religious experience. Also see: magicians. I was struck by the interaction between Zoe and Jin as walked past Ground Zero for ''The Test,'' a shack of white slats containing two giant donut-shaped woofers that generated a small storm of electromagnetic energy. ''Come on, no time for sight seeing,'' Zoe told Jin as she hustled him past the EM shed, as if not wanting him to inspect her magic cabinet too closely.
But I don't want to mislead you and cultivate mystery where there was none. Widmore's shrieking shack was one bad box. When a geek-goon named Simmons was sent in to check out a faulty thingamajigger, and when another dude inside mission control flipped on the power without checking to see if Simmons had gotten out first, Simmons got scorched. Poor Simmons! Stupid Widmore geek-goons! Seriously, Charles: where the hell do you find your help, anyway? Caesar Romero's Joker had more competent lackeys on the old Adam West/Batman TV series. EXTRA CREDIT! The Simmons Theory Challenge! Did you think Simmons referred to: A. John Simmons, noted philosophy professor and author of such pieces as The Lockean Theory of Rights and On The Edge of Anarchy, or B. the character Simmons from Red vs. Blue, the sci-fi animated series with Lost-esque themes and tropes (long con conflict, existentialism, ghosts, disembodied minds and spirits, electromagnetic hoo-ha) set within the world of the Halo videogame series?
Widmore had Desmond placed inside the quantum sweat lodge. The geek-goons strapped Desmond into a chair. The chair reminded me of Jacob's chair in Jacob's cabin. Then Desmond shattered the chair to pieces like it was made of matchsticks, thus dashing my hope we were about to get some kind of explanation for the ''Help me...'' apparition that Locke saw in Jacob's cabin. Here's my take on what happened next. Widmore explained that Desmond ''is the only man I know who has survived a catastrophic electromagnetic event.'' (He was referring the implosion of the Hatch at the end of season 2 — the one that sent Desmond's consciousness back in time and where he first encountered all-knowing Ms. Hawking.) Widmore told Desmond that once the test was over, he would then ask his beleaguered son-in-law to make an unspecified sacrifice. ''And I hope for all our sakes, you'll help me,'' said Widmore, sounding like a president trying to sell a tax hike for the sake of the greater good. Desmond scoffed at Widmore's talk of ''sacrifice.'' What did this fat cat control freak know about sacrifice? Widmore's answer: A lot. For all his material wealth, Widmore presented himself as man who had been denied — or had to give up — the ''things'' which were most important to him, that defined life for him: his family. His son, Daniel, had died on The Island. Penelope hated him, as did his wife, Eloise. He had never met his grandson. Widmore presented his losses and lost relationships as sacrifices, and he explained that unless Desmond followed through on his Island destiny, those sacrifices — and much more — would have been for nothing. Unless Desmond helped him, ''Penny, your son, and everyone else will be done. Forever.''
Widmore sure painted himself out to be the Professor Snape of Lost — the secret savior disguised as a bad guy. Did you buy it? Also: I wasn't sure if Widmore's words and deeds indicated that he was aware of the Sideways world and testing for it, or if he's oblivious to the Sideways world and was merely testing Desmond's electro-magnetic fortitude. I'm thinking the latter. What did you think?
Desmond was locked in the EM shed. Shades of his three-year incarceration inside another electromagnetic hotspot, Station 3: The Swan, a.k.a. the Hatch. The good-geeks flipped the switches. Energy flooded the shack. Reality began to warp. Desmond screamed. And then he collapsed. My comic book-soaked brained recalled Watchmen and the story of Jon Osterman, a physicist who was accidentally locked in a room and bombarded with energy that removed the ''intrinsic field'' that held his being together and became unglued... only to reconstruct himself through sheer force of disembodied will into an omniscient, omnipotent Nietzschean Ubermench capable of experiencing past, present and future all at one. He became a superman. Codename: Dr. Manhattan. The problem? He found himself stripped of his humanity, neither needing nor wanting companionship or love. The story of Dr. Manhattan should remind you of the Man In Black, who told us in ''Ab Aeterno'' that his humanity had also been stripped from him, hence his smokey physique. But it should also remind you of Desmond's Sideways story in ''Happily Ever After,'' for it told us the tale of a man considered something of a super-stud by the culture, but suffering from a malaise of emotional detachment. ''Happily Ever After'' broke this Humpty Dumpty apart and put him back together again.
The Sideways World
Master of Two Worlds
''Make no mistake: Your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.'' — Ryan Bingham, Up In The Air
We began up in the clouds, soaring through blue heaven. Whose perspective was this? Oceanic 815? Desmond's disembodied mind/soul? The shot bled into the deep blue the Oceanic Airlines logo behind the glass of a video screen showing arrivals and departures of inbound and outbound consciousness — err, I mean flights. We saw Desmond's reflection in the glass. We saw Desmond looking at Desmond's reflection in the glass. The succession of these carefully selected images struck me as a pretty clear attempt to evoke Sigmund Freud's critique of spiritual/religious experience as an ''Oceanic feeling'' of eternity and limitlessness. Freud considered religion an illusion — an outgrowth of the Oedipus complex to help us cope with helplessness, the fear of death, and yearning for re-connection to father figures. Oh, and while it's on my mind: Hope you had a happy Easter and Passover, devoutly religious readers!
Hurley whisked past Desmond and saw him looking lost and gave him direction on where he could pick up his baggage. Desmond graciously accepted Hurley's help and immediately paid it forward by helping Claire by pulling her suitcase of off the carousel. (That stuffed Shamu! So heavy!) Desmond eyeballed her Aaron-swollen belly. Warm and pervy Freudian fuzzies filled him up. He smiled. He inquired about the gender, then immediately felt bashful for prying. Claire didn't mind. She also told him she didn't know the sex of her baby. (And yet in a traumatic moment during ''What Kate Does,'' we heard Claire declare that her son's name was Aaron. More on the significance of this discrepancy later.) Desmond said he'd totally want to know if he was pregnant. He said, ''I don't like surprises.'' Which is what Fake Locke told Sawyer last week, explaining his decision to send Sayid to find out who was hiding behind Widmore's locked door No. 1. It wasn't the only time Desmond would be given a line previously uttered by one of The Island's two god-like power players. Desmond asked her if he could give her a lift somewhere. Was he hitting on her? Was he being gallant? Was Lost trying to foreshadow Desmond's role in the endgame, shepherding souls to and fro from the Island and Sideways worlds? Regardless, Claire had her own ride. Desmond parted company by predicting that she was carrying a boy. That Desmond, ever the seer. We were left with the impression of a man who had a soft spot for family, most likely because he himself had a family with Penelope and son Charlie. After all, there had been that wedding band of Desmond's hand in the season premiere when he seated next to Jack on the plane, reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories....
Wrong. Desmond was met at the airport by a chauffer named George, played by Fisher Stevens, who in season 4 played a character named George Minkowski, radio operator on the freighter. He died in Desmond's arms, a victim of time travel sickness; his mind had come unstuck in time and yo-yo'd between periods until his brain became mush. Sideways George was an operator, too — a valet of vice, clad in sinister black. What's your heart's desire? He can fetch it for you. Perhaps George stands as an analog for Smokey during better days on The Island; perhaps once, Smokey functioned as Jacob's right-hand bagman. Little Georgie Screwtape offered to score chicks, restaurant reservations, any manner of earthly delights for Bachelor Desmond. That's right: Sideways Desmond wasn't married. Where did the wedding band go? Again: a theory to come. For now, let's note how Desmond shut down his devilish driver's pimping. ''I'm not looking for any companionship,'' Desmond said. ''I'm here to work.'' And so Sideways Desmond revealed himself to be the opposite of Island Desmond, a vagabond whose identity was defined by relationships, not employment — by who he loved, not what he did.
A few additional thoughts about George. I don't begrudge the casting, but I do wonder if the Sideways edition of Lance Reddick's Matthew Abbaddon would have been a better choice to play Desmond's driver. Also, back in season 4, George Minkowski was pretty consistently referred to as ''Minkowski,'' while in ''Happily Ever After'' he was exclusively referred to as ''George.'' Minkowski, a reference to physicist Hermann Minkowski, was a definitely a good name for an era of Lost that was keenly interested in quantum physics and spacetime. But given how much George emphasized his role as Desmond's personal Santa Claus, I wonder if Lost was repositioning George as a reference to George Santayana, famous for a saying that now looms large here in season 6: ''Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'' Santayana's major philosophical work was The Life of Reason, which explored the ''phases of human progress'' in various arenas. Santayana took as his project an attempt to find a way to motivate people to virtue ''without the stimulus of supernatural hopes and fears.'' Apparently, he didn't feel he succeeded. But he did place his faith that men might be motivated to selflessness by love and family. Which was exactly the theme ''Happily Ever After'' took for itself, too.
Desmond's romantic transformation began at the office. His boss: Charles Widmore. Unlike Island Des and Island Chuck, this Sideways pair enjoyed a close relationship. Desmond worked as Widmore's all-purpose utility fielder, the Mr. Fix-It who had just spent time down under negotiating a contract — again, a coy analog to current intrigue on Wormhole Island, where Desmond has been cast as the killer app in Widmore's morally ambiguous machinations. Whereas Island Widmore in seasons past made Island Desmond feel like a waste of life, unworthy of both his daughter and his MacCutcheon scotch, Sideways Widmore made Sideways Desmond feel like the son he wanted as opposed to the artsy-fartsy musician one that he had. Sideways Widmore had everything Island Widmore had to sacrifice and now yearns for — i.e., an intact if dysfunctional family. Yet this Widmore yearned to have Desmond's Up In The Air life — relationally liberated, unburdened by familial responsibilities, ''free of attachments.'' Desmond didn't share his employer's enthusiasm for his own life, but he didn't really know what was so dissatisfying about it, either. His long, lingering gazes at Claire's belly and Widmore's model sailboat spoke to his missing pieces and yearnings, but he clacked the self-awareness to understand them and the language to describe them. That would change.
Boss Chuck had a new problem for his Mr. Fix-It to solve. His willful wife was staging a charity events. His artsy-fartsy musician son wanted to perform at the gala with the band Drive Shaft — an attempt to blend ''classical music with modern rock,'' Widmore said with a roll of eyes. It was a clue, I think, to where we're headed with the interchange between Island and Sideways worlds. I don't think it'll be a matter of, say, Island Jack's consciousness displacing and replacing Sideways Jack's consciousness, but rather both minds blending to form a unique and stronger new persona. Desmond's job: get Charlie Pace out of jail; get him to the gala; make the willful wife and artsy-fartsy boy happy. Widmore joked that should Desmond fail to get Charlie to party, his wife would ''destroy'' him. That, too, played to me to like a clue — I wonder if the bitter rivalry between Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore is not yet over.
We should talk about the painting, shouldn't we? On the wall of Widmore's office there was a canvas featuring a balanced scale, one side holding a white rock and the other side holding a black rock. Assuming the painting means something (historically speaking, this has not always been the case), we could interpret it to mean that in the Sideways world, the opposing powers represented by Jacob and the Man In Black are balanced. I might argue that what the scale represents is the tension between the Dionysian and the Apollonian — the timeless conflict between chaos and order, passion and reason. Our aforementioned friend Nietzsche was a big fan of the Apollonian/Dionysian conflict; it formed the crux of The Birth of Tragedy, in which he suggested that effective, inspiring tragedy is one in which the hero of reason struggles to make sense of unreasonable fate — and loses. But in the process of the struggle, he affirms eternal values and stands as an inspiration to others. I would argue ''Happily Ever After'' dramatized this idea by showing how Charlie's seemingly meaningless tragic sacrifice three seasons ago provided an inspiring, redeeming moment for Desmond in the Sideways world. An even more on-the-nose application of the Apollonian/Dionysian concept was last week's controversy over What Keamy Said. Did he really mention The Island to Jin — or was that our mind imposing order on formlessness? If you believe the latter, you are engaging in ''Apollonianism,'' according to linguistics people. (Or so Wikipedia tells me.)
I'll be honest with you: the reason I'm hanging my hat on this Apollonian/Dionysian stuff is to establish a precedent for a claim I will make at a later date that the Sideways world can be explained by Nietzsche's idea of ''eternal recurrence.'' Like I said: a later date. You can't wait, can you?
Desmond didn't have to work too hard to get Charlie out of jail. The pasty English rocker was walking out of the clink just as Desmond was arriving. Charlie then kept walking right into the street, oblivious or ambivalent or indifferent to the cars screeching to a half to avoid mowing him down a la Nadia or Juliet's husband. Desmond was baffled. He watched Charlie head into a bar called Jax, an Outback-themed pub with a kangaroo mascot. Lost = Kangaroo Jack? Debate. (I could make a FlashForward joke here, too. But I'm tired.)
Desmond and Charlie drank. The moment evoked the season 3 episode ''Flashes Before Your Eyes,'' when Desmond and Charlie forged their tragic rapport during an acrimonious night of drinking scotch. The Jax conversation began with personal fulfillment. Charlie: ''Are you happy?'' Desmond said he had a great job, had lots of money, and traveled a lot. ''Why wouldn't I be happy?'' Desmond was representative of a definition of happiness rooted almost exclusively in material reality. Charlie had a different definition. ''Have you ever been in love?'' Desmond: ''Thousands of times.'' Again: materialism. And… Man-Whore! ''That's not what I'm talking about,'' the rock star replied. ''I'm talking about spectacular, consciousness-altering love. Do you know what that looks like?'' Again, the thematic of show-and-tell proofing reared its head. Desmond laughed. ''I wasn't aware that love looked like anything.'' Charlie begged to differ; he claimed to have had a vision of love on the plane back from Australia. Desmond — who clearly didn't believe in his own shallow philosophy; who clearly yearned for something more — asked Charlie to explain. ''Enlighten me,'' he said.
What followed was an allegory for religious experience that leaves the zealots of reason and the zealots of faith bitterly divided: the validity of subjective reality. Charlie revealed that contrary to what we may have though, he did not try to commit suicide by ODing on the plane. Instead, Charlie got spooked when he saw U.S. marshal Edward Mars giving him the suspicious once-over and so he decided to get rid of his bag of horse by swallowing it before he could get busted. But then Oceanic 815 hit turbulence and Charlie choked on the drugs and lapsed into unconsciousness/near death. As his life ebbed away, Charlie had a vision. ''A woman. Blonde. Rapturously beautiful. And I know her. We're together. It's like we always will be. This feeling. This love. And just as I'm about to be engulfed by it…'' Charlie went to explain that party-poopers Jack Shepard and Sayid busted in to save his life.
Many of you are placing bets on who Charlie's dream girl could be. I'm guessing most people will be saying Claire. My pick is more cynical. If Sideways Charlie was truly tapping the memories of his dead Island counterpart, then I say the rapturous blonde beauty he beheld was his season 2 Island temptress: the heroin-stuffed Virgin Mary statues. The painted hair? The color of sunshine. The robes? Sky blue. It just makes sense. Go back and watch Charlie give that speech: he looks stoned out of his mind. Honestly, I'm more inclined to think that Charlie's bathroom epiphany was a hallucination. Further, I'm inclined to think that Lost was again giving subversive voice to a more skeptical, cynical view of religious feeling. I've always felt those drug-stuffed idols were a coded nod to Karl Marx's famous line that ''religion is the opiate of the masses.'' And in my opinion, Charlie's experience of engulfing love sounds more like Freud's theory of ''Oceanic.'' Sorry, Charlie: Your testimony sounds pretty fishy to me. His defense, of course, was the defense of any religious person who has nothing but personal experience to support his faith: ''I've seen something real. I've seen the truth.''
Desmond wasn't buying it. ''That's poetry,'' he cracked about Charlie's story. ''You should write a song about it.'' Actually, in another life, Charlie did write an ode to redeeming love: ''Saved,'' the song Island Charlie wrote in his last-gasp bid to save Drive Shaft from disintegration. The season 2 Charlie-centric episode ''Fire + Water'' — memorable for its surreal, religiously-charged dream sequence (Hurley as Jesus; Claire as the Virgin Mary) and the ''You All Every Butties'' diaper commercial — gave us this bit of lyrics: ''All alone, I try to be invincible/Together now, we can be saved.'' Regardless, Desmond got in his face and pulled a Jacob/Man In Black: he impressed upon Charlie the idea of free will and then presented him two choices. He could drink his musical career away, or he could do Widmore a solid and earn a favor from him in return. Charlie's response: ''That doesn't seem like a choice.'' But he chose the Widmore option, anyway…
Or he seemed to. In the car, Drive Shaft's ''You All Everybody'' came on the radio. Charlie asked Desmond if he liked it. Desmond said yes… ''for what it is.'' Charlie was stung. He again attacked Desmond's empty definition of fulfillment. An detached, dispassionate Desmond cracked sarcastic: ''Why? Because none of it is real?'' It was a tired, unthinking retort, and it inspired Charlie to play a game, not unlike The Game, the David Fincher film about a spiritual sleepwalker (Michael Douglas) who finds himself involved in a deadly alternate-reality game designed to shock him into self-awareness... or kill him. Charlie offered Desmond a choice: he could have a chance at the kind of epiphany Charlie had on the plane, or he could get out of the car. Desmond made it clear he wasn't getting out of the car — and so Charlie grabbed the steering wheel and sent the car off a pier and into the L.A. Harbor. Call it Carjacking as Spiritual Course Correction. (I suppose Desmond could have just stepped on the brake, but that would have gotten in the way of a cool moment.) Desmond's car capsized and sank. The interior filled with water. Desmond freed himself from his seatbelt and swam to the surface, then took a deep breath and dived back down to rescue Charlie, á la his Looking Glass rescue mission in season 3. Desmond tried to open the door. It wouldn't budge. He kept trying. And that's when something weird happened. It was as if some supernatural force — angelic? demonic? Jacobesque? Smokeyesque? — took possession of Charlie's body or manipulated him like a puppet on a string and turned him in his chair and slapped his palm against the window. Desmond saw the pose, then flashed on the memory of ''NOT PENNY'S BOAT.'' The sound dropped out of the scene — one of two brilliant uses of silence in the episode — and Desmond was left staggered. He recovered, then managed to haul Charlie out of the car.
Desmond and Charlie went to the hospital. Desmond thoughtfully considered the possibility he had hallucinated the flash for all of 5 seconds, then wanted to collect his troublesome Charlie package and split. The doctors said: Nope. The doctors said: We need an MRI of your brain to make sure you're not broken in the head. Desmond was set up with a panic button — a new version of his Hatch button — and rolled into yet another version of his Hatch prison. It was as if the more the MRI machine pelted his brain with energy, the more it was breaking down the psychic wall separating his Sideways self from his Island self. As it did, memories of Penny and Baby Charlie — Island Desmond's family — flooded his mind. It was wonderful. It was terrifying. It was too much, too soon. Desmond hit the panic button. He wanted out. He wanted answers. He wanted Charlie. He found him trying to make an escape from the hospital. Desmond accused Madman Charlie of trying to kill him with the car stunt. Like any self-righteous would-be prophet, Charlie responded: ''I wasn't trying to kill you. I was trying to help you.'' Desmond asked him if he knew a ''Penny.'' Charlie didn't. But he realized that Desmond had the Road to Damascus moment he tried to facilitate for him. Desmond tried to get Charlie to fulfill his obligation to play at Hawking's charity event, but Charlie reminded Desmond that a born again life demands a new way of living. ''I can't go play a rock concert after this! This doesn't matter! None of this matters! All that matters is that we felt it. … If I were you, I'd stop worrying about me and start looking for Penny.'' And with that, Charlie was gone.
Desmond broke the news to Widmore that he had lost Charlie. Pissed, Widmore broke the news to Des that he'd have to go break the news to ball-busting Eloise Hawking in person. George was worried for Desmond, too. ''So you never met the boss' wife? Good luck.'' Yet to Desmond's surprise, Eloise Hawking and her shocking white hair took the news of Charlie's disappearance well. ''Don't worry about it,'' she said. ''What happened, happened.'' End of story, really — until Desmond heard that ''Milton, Penelope (solo)'' was on the guest list for the party. Desmond inquired. Eloise flipped. The two squabbled, and then Eloise sighed and demanded that he join her for a private conference out of earshot of either the hired help, or the quirky young man playing piano whose identity was impossible to disguise. Indeed, I got the sense that Eloise had no desire to expose her delicate son, Daniel (Faraday) Widmore, to the reality-challenging argument that had to come. Eloise: ''Someone has clearly affected the way you see things. This is a serious problem. It is, in fact, a violation.'' Eloise definitely seemed to understand the origin, purpose, and more importantly the rules of the Sideways world. She also seemed to have knowledge or vision for what should be happening and when, and Desmond's search for Penny threatened the implicit order. She scolded him for wanting more than what he always wanted: Charles Widmore's approval.
This landed like a newsflash for Desmond. It surely must have started to bug him that everyone seemed to know him better than he knew himself. ''How do you know what I want?'' he demanded. ''I just bloody do!'' Eloise thundered. Desmond wanted to know: why was he being denied the info he wanted about Penny? ''Because you're not ready yet, Desmond!'' What does he need to be doing to get ready? TBD. But again, we have this idea of plans and schedules being undermined by the variable of human free will.
Desmond was defeated. He piled into his black limo. Then, Daniel Widmore came knocking on his window. He told Desmond a wild story about one day laying eyes on a chocolate bar-eating red-headed egghead who worked at a nearby museum. That would be Sideways Charlotte. ''As soon as I saw her, right in that moment, it was like I already loved her. And that's when things got weird.'' On the night of his first visual contact, Widmore began scribbling equations into notebook — sophisticated quantum mechanics stuff about ''real space'' and ''imaginary time.'' (Stephen Hawking popularized the concept of ''imaginary time.'' ''One might think this means that imaginary numbers are just a mathematical game having nothing to do with the real world. From the viewpoint of positivist philosophy, however, one cannot determine what is real. All one can do is find which mathematical models describe the universe we live in. It turns out that a mathematical model involving imaginary time predicts not only effects we have already observed but also effects we have not been able to measure yet nevertheless believe in for other reasons. So what is real and what is imaginary? Is the distinction just in our minds?'')
What does that mean? ''I'm a musician. I have no idea.'' I laughed. Dear lord, it was great seeing He Shall Always Be Faraday To Me again. But Daniel knew a math whiz at Cal Tech, and after their consult, Dan had come up with what sounded to me like... a Lost theory! His speculation: he and Desmond and many others are not living the lives they're supposed to be leading — a consequence, he believed, of creating a new reality by detonating a nuclear bomb. ''I don't want to set off a nuclear bomb, Mr. Hume,'' Daniel said. ''I think I already did.'' (Wow! Good guesses, Mr. I'm Just A Musician!) I was reminded of what Young Daniel Faraday told his mother in the episode entitled ''The Variable'' when she informed him that she wanted him to stop studying piano and start focusing his genius on physics. He could do both, he insisted. ''I can make time,'' he said. Eloise sighed. ''If only you could,'' she said. And it sounds like he did — if you believe Dan's Lost theory. Do you?
Desmond told Dan about his vision of love. Dan told him to trust the feelings that came with it as real. Desmond said his ''Penny'' was no more than an idea. ''No,'' she said Dan, ''she's my half-sister.'' Daniel directed Desmond to a local stadium where Penelope was running stairs — a nice twist on the Jack-meets-Desmond scene in the season 2 premiere, ''Man of Science, Man of Faith.'' Desmond saw Penny. WHAM! Arrow to the heart, thunderbolt to the head — dream-come-true/love at first sight. Desmond approached Penelope. This should have freaked her out. Here she was, attractive young female alone in a huge stadium, being approached by a leering, moony-eyed though very handsome man. In most any other story, her intuition should have said: ''Ted Bundy?'' Instead, Penelope seemed genuinely intrigued and attracted to the cute guy who couldn't take his eyes off her and wanted to take her hand and shake it. ''I'm Desmond,'' he said. ''I'm Penelope,'' she said. Their hands touched —
And in a breathtaking segue, quick and silent, we were back on The Island, with Desmond flat on his back, waking up for the second time in 20 minutes in a place he thought he didn't want to be. But a lot can change in 20 minutes...
The Desmond who awoke in Widmore's shrieking shack was markedly different than the one who collapsed amid a storm of electromagnetic energy. He seemed happier, lighter, and certainly more tender toward Widmore. Indicative of the thaw in their relationship: Desmond reached out to Widmore and asked for his assistance in helping him to his feet. Desmond practically radiated affection — the prodigal son, returning home to the father that he thought he hated but didn't. Again, Widmore's reaction was inscrutable. I couldn't tell if he was expecting this shift in Desmond, but he certainly welcomed it. ''It's all right. I understand. You told me you brought me to The Island to do something really important. When do we start?''
Then again… is it possible that Desmond was conning Widmore?
Zoe and some geek-goons escorted Desmond back to Hydra Station proper. Zoe was at a loss for what exactly happened in Widmore's magical conversion cabinet. ''That thing fried your brain,'' Zoe said. Desmond smirked. ''Did it?'' Then: Sayid attack. He broke some necks, then pulled a gun on Zoe. ''Run,'' he said. She ran. Awesome. Then, the hilarious irony of killer Sayid saying, ''Desmond, I don't have time to explain but these people are extremely dangerous.'' After I got done laughing, I thought: Wait — are they dangerous? To date, we have not seen Team Widmore kill one person. Yes, there was that guy that got microwaved in the EM shed, but really: Nobody's weeping for Simmons. And yes, there was a pile of dead bodies that Sawyer found on Hydra — but I'm pretty convinced that was Smokey's doing. So I'm thinking Sayid killed some eggheads for nothing. Par for the course for the easily manipulated redemption-starved assassin.
But Desmond didn't seem to mind being abducted by Sayid — mostly because I don't think it really affects the mission he has now given himself. In fact, hooking up with Sayid might actually expedite his mission.
We got a sense of what that mission might be when the story toggled back for a coda in the Sideways world. We saw that Desmond had fainted upon shaking Penelope's hand. ''I must have quite an effect on you,'' Penelope said, who suddenly felt a stir of déjà vu herself. ''Have we met before?'' Desmond asked her out for coffee. She should have said no. But she said yes. And we bought it, because frankly, the chemistry between Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger is so damn irresistible. In the limo en route to his date with destiny, George asked Desmond if he needed anything else. He did. Desmond wanted the names of all the passengers aboard Oceanic 815. George asked: ''Why?'' Desmond's response was the response of any born again believer whose soul has saved by the Good News of eternity: He wanted to share it with his friends. ''I just need to show them something,'' he said, and suddenly his face took on an otherworldly glow. I couldn't tell if it was the glow of enlightenment or madness, Apollo or Dionysus, or both. Regardless, I think the great work that lies ahead for Desmond will require sacrifice, as Widmore indicated, because Desmond has the most to lose. By choosing to help Widmore and his friends in whatever capacity that is required — fighting Smokey; shepherding souls — it will mean giving up the life he fought so hard to attain in the Island world. His one consolation will be that he's seemingly assured a second chance at the same happiness in the Sideways world. His sacrifice, then, can be summed up in this exchange of dialogue from Contact:
Palmer Joss: By doing this, you're willing to give your life, you're willing to die for it. Why?
Ellie Arroway: For as long as I can remember, I've been searching for something, some reason why we're here. What are we doing here? Who are we? If this is a chance to find out even just a little part of that answer... I don't know, I think it's worth a human life. Don't you?
First, it seems that trauma is capable of punching a hole between worlds. In the same way Desmond broke on through to the other side during the panic of his underwater crisis with Charlie, I think we can also conclude that Sideways Claire pulled Aaron's name from the memory of her mirror twin during her delivery scare in the hospital with Kate.
Second, there's the matter of Desmond's wedding ring. I think we could be looking at a situation where the migration of consciousness from Island world to Sideways world is more than just a mind-swap. I think the combining of lives and minds and histories could create whole new people, reboots of individual timelines. Perhaps this process is volatile and ongoing. The mystery of Desmond's peekaboo wedding ring? Perhaps his ''story'' was in flux or even remains in flux until the entire matter of castaway transmigration is settled.
Third, Ms. Hawking's brooch tells us something. In seasons past, she wore a version of an oroboros, with a snake chasing its tail and completing a circuit with its body, but its head remained free, escaping its own loop. I think the old pendant was a metaphor for the creation of the Sideways world. The new pendant? Two parallel lines, each bisected by a star, but at different points. The meaning? I'm still thinking.
Finally, Desmond. I think his job is to pull a John Locke/Jeremy Bentham and offer each castaway a chance to cross over into the Sideways world. I do think that's the direction of movement — Island to Sideways. I think Desmond's ''talent'' is to help each castaways open up a psychic channel for the crossing to occur. That means that Sideways Desmond has to work his people and Island Desmond has to work his people. And I think both iterations of the individual has to agree to create the channel. If Sideways Jack doesn't want to merge with Island Jack, is isn't going to happen.
Another much too long recap, and I'm sure there's much I've neglected. That's why you need to shoot me an email with your questions for my Friday Doc Jensen column. The address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Appreciate the patience in waiting for the recap to post — I now exit quickly so he can get talking... and to avoid your tomatoes.