Why even bother with those bottom two buttons?
“Reason number two why I love Desmond,” Erin said during last night’s episode. “He hits on pregnant women.” (Desmond had just made small talk with Claire at baggage claim.)
“What’s reason number one?” Ben asked.
“That’s between me and the secret longings of my heart.”
Asked this morning if she had anything else to include in today’s post, Erin said, “Hume am I to criticize any episode that features the Des?”
Desmond episodes are always the highlight of any “Lost” season. The creators (last night’s episode was penned by Cuse and Lindelof themselves) clearly have their own secret longings of the heart for Ian Henry Cusick’s character. Is he the key to everything else that happens in the show — “Lost’s” constant, as it were? Or just a snappy dresser (when he’s not shirtless) who speaks in a seductive brogue? Either way, Damon Lindelof tweeted last week that “the conversation is going to change” with “Happily Ever After.” He was surely referring to the Sideways timeline. And so it has.
Everyone now: DESSSSSSSSSSSSSSMOND!
Let’s go to the recap, brutha.
- Desmond, finding himself back on the island thanks to his infernal father-in-law, is subjected to a “catastrophic electromagnetic event.” Before this happens, Widmore tells Desmond that after he survives being microwaved, he’ll need to make a great sacrifice.
- After Desmond is catastrophically electromagnetized, we soar through the clouds and down into LAX, where Desmond is staring at an airport info board. Hurley passes and tells him where baggage claim is. Desmond meets Claire there and asks if it’s a boy or a girl. Claire says she doesn’t know. “You’re braver than I,” Desmond says. “I’m not a big fan of surprises.” (“There’s another reason,” Erin says.)
- George Minkowski escorts Desmond to the offices of his employer: Charles Widmore. Only in Sideways world, Widmore and Des are tight like a tiger. Desmond is Widmore’s right-hand man because he’s the ultimate fix-it guy: no family, no friends, nothing to distract him from being the perfect employee.
- Widmore gives him his next assignment: babysit Charlie Pace and make sure he and Driveshaft perform alongside a certain talented piano playing son at a charity event.
- Desmond picks up Charlie at the county jail and follows an apparently suicidal Mr. Pace into the bar across the street. Charlie speaks of “conscious-altering love” and calls Des “Perky.” He tells Desmond that when he nearly OD’d on the plane, there was a split second when he glimpsed a “rapturously beautiful” blonde and concludes, “I saw it. Just for a second, I saw what it looked like. I’ve seen something real. I saw the truth.”
- Driving away from the bar, Desmond and Charlie pass a familiar marina and Charlie decides to conduct a little experiment entitled, “Let’s See What Happens When We Drive A Car Into The Ocean.” What happens is a rather brilliant coincidence: as Desmond tries to free Charlie from his car seat, we see the two looking at one another through a pane of glass and Charlie extend his palm to it … and Desmond’s mind jumps back to season 3’s finale “Through the Looking Glass,” when a drowning Charlie warned him it was “Not Penny’s Boat” coming for the island. The synapse closes, and Des pulls Charlie to the surface.
- At the hospital (Hmmm … a hospital … wonder who we’ll bump into here), Desmond is told he must have an MRI. (Hmmm … an MRI … wonder what happens when Des gets introduced to a powerful magnetic field.) He just wants to find Charlie and ask him who Penny is. The nurse is having none of it, delivering Desmond to the lab where he is strapped to a table and given a panic button to push should once things get intense inside the scanner.
- Which it does. We see flashes of Desmond’s life, on-island and off. This sequence was the highlight of the episode.
- Even more determined to find Charlie, Desmond runs into (surprise!) Jack, who is looking rather haggard but still remembers Desmond from the plane. Just then, Charlie does his best Randle Patrick McMurphy impression, racing down the hallway in a nightgown. Despite having a good 20 meters to prepare, Desmond lets Charlie fly past and chases him down a stairwell into a empty wing. (Throughout the entire chase, the director does a fantastic job at not quite giving you a glimpse of Charlie’s naked backside.)
- Charlie realizes Desmond saw something when they were underwater, and tells him, “This doesn’t matter. None of this matters. All that matters is that we felt it.”
- Widmore is none too pleased that Driveshaft will not accompany his son and tells Desmond he must be the bearer of bad news to Mrs. Widmore. (We groaned when we saw Fionnula Flanagan’s name in the opening credits.) Expecting a tongue-lashing, Desmond instead gets a strangely serene response from Eloise. But she can’t help flying off the handle when Des overhears Penny’s name (oddly paired with the surname “Milton”) mentioned on the guest list, pulling him aside to tell him his newfound curiosity is a “violation,” adding “I don’t know why you’re looking at all. You have the perfect life, and you’ve managed to attain the thing you wanted more than anything: my husband’s approval.” She says Des is “not ready” for the answers he wants. Desmond, weirded out, returns for a stiff drink in the limo when he gets a knock on the window. It’s …
- Daniel Faraday! I mean, Daniel Widmore! (One of the episode’s many strong points: Reuniting us with so many favorite characters.) Daniel shows Desmond his journal and its quantum physics doodles. He confesses that he probably set off a nuclear bomb and that he has a half-sister named Penny, and that Desmond can find her …
- Running the steps in the stadium where they once said goodbye! They share an awkward conversation before finally introducing themselves and shaking hands —
- — at which point Desmond awakes in the Electromagnetic Trailer. Widmore and crew open the door and find him alive. Widmore’s hunch turns out to be right, and Desmond is all set for his sacrificial assignment. En route to whatever comes next, Sayid goes Sayid on a Widmore lacky and holds Des at gunpoint, telling him he has his own special Desmond assignment. Des, thrilled to have so many assignments, tells Sayid to lead the way.
- We jump back one last time to the Sideways world (though, it should be noted, without the usual jumping sound … more on this in a second), where Desmond fainted when he and Penny shook hands. Apparently turned on by men who faint, Penny agrees to meet up for coffee in an hour. Back in his limo, Desmond tells George there is one thing George can do for him: deliver Oceanic 815’s manifest.
Phew. Lot to unpack in there. We’ll only say this for now:
We’re in the camp that believes the Sideways timeline is, as it were, “wrong.” The manipulative, Machiavellian Eloise Hawking, in her dressing down of the inquisitive Desmond, clearly knows multiple timelines exist. And she obviously prefers the Sideways timeline (for obvious reasons — she’s alive, her son never killed her, and she gets to lecture underlings on the proper placement of a butter knife). Remember that young Eloise was the one who led Daniel to Jughead — an event, Sideways Daniel suggests to Desmond, which was never meant to take place. Why? Because, among other things, it has given Man in Black/Smokey a chance to get off the island.
Eloise realizes Desmond is the one who could unravel everything, and argues for his seemingly tranquil Sideways life by appealing to what Island Desmond always wanted but never had: Widmore’s approval. (She’s is a crafty one, that monster.) As Zap2It argues, Eloise is the primary beneficiary of the Sideways timeline — like the Man in Black, she’s found a loophole. She can’t risk Desmond learning, to return to Charlie’s words at the bar, “something real … the truth” (his “conscious-altering love” with Penny). And the Sideways timeline is, like the Matrix, a lie, or a brave new world in which everyone is eating soma. Which is why we hope Desmond will succeed in his quest to find the other Oceanic passengers and “touch” them, Jacob-like. (Could he be Jacob’s ultimate candidate?)
This leaves a slew of questions: How will Desmond do this? Does it still matter what he does on the island? (He seemed eerily indifferent to the sudden change in plans caused by Sayid’s ambush.) Why was Penny’s last name Milton? What did the painting in Widmore’s office of a balanced scale with black and white rocks mean? Do Sideways Charles Widmore and Island Charles Widmore possess the same knowledge and/or want the same outcome? (We’d suggest “no.”) How did Desmond suddenly disappear from Jack’s seat back in “LA X”? Why no weird sound effect when Desmond went to and from the Sideways timeline? Is this because of his special relation to it? Because he’s the only character who realizes it can be changed? Or because — try this one on for size — the Sideways world is all in Desmond’s head?
Think about it. The book Desmond was reading on the plane, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, explores the power of storytelling and attempts to answer one central question, posed by a character named Mr. Sengupta: “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” What if the entire Sideways storyline is in fact a story that isn’t even true — a phantasmagorical trip through Desmond’s mind, an attempt to wake up to the truth which Charlie and Daniel point toward — but whose untruth still leads Desmond to do what he must do: the sacrificial act on the island that will save everyone? Desmond faced the electromagnetic coil intent on escaping and never doing his father-in-law’s bidding; he came out on the other side (in a matter of 20 minutes) completely reoriented to his purpose on the island, whatever that will turn out to be.
One final thought: An episode like tonight’s is a testament to how great a show “Lost” can be, because in Desmond they have created a brilliant, enigmatic, time-traveling hunk … or, as Seth Stevenson put it, the perfect combination of “Hurley’s good nature, Sawyer’s roguish charm, and Jack’s heroic impulses.” And yet — “Happily Ever After” makes an episode like last week’s “The Package” look even worse in retrospect. Season six of “Lost” sinks or swims by its characters. We know we’re in for a rough patch when (groan) Kate, Sayid or Jin/Sun take center stage. But when it’s Desmond, Locke, Ben or (as it will be next week) Hurley? We’re in for a treat. It’s not a good thing, however, that we can anticipate beforehand the quality of the episode. Not that we’d expect the writers to jettison the less interesting characters at this stage of the game, but it does explain why this season has felt so uneven and inspired such conflicting reactions among fans.
If only every episode was a Desmond episode.