In last night’s episode, “Happily Ever After,” each person Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) encountered (except for the Widmores, Hurley and Penny) was a dead person. Minkowski (Fisher Stevens), Charlie and Daniel all died after finding their purpose on the island (well, maybe not Minkowski, but he was still important). These are great examples of the kind of casualties Jack said he wanted to avoid. But when they died on the island, it was their time. They had truly lived and, at least when it comes to Daniel and Charlie, they had found love.
(And when you think about it, even the women they loved, Charlotte and Claire, died on the island. We still don’t know for sure about Claire, but something’s definitely off about her, and we do know that she took a bath in the fountain of youth turned soul-stealing swamp… )
In the Sideways reality, Charlie gets to live, but he wants to die. Without his sense of purpose (playing Beach Boys music in the Looking Glass Station) and the love of Claire, he’s suicidal.
Sideways Daniel gets to be a classical musician, something Eloise never allowed in the island reality. But he doesn’t know Charlotte (except from afar) and desperately needs that sense of purpose, of studying time travel.
So, when beyond-the-grave Juliet said, “It worked,” what was it that really worked? Because these alternative lives do not seem to be working. And even when some aspects of them do work out, when castaways like Jack, Ben, Sawyer and Locke find redemption and closure in their new lives, there’s always something mundane, dull and lackluster about it. They are living “happily ever after,” but in a contrived way.
I’ve said from the earliest posts on this blog that it’s love, that universal connection, that the castaways get to find in the Sideways world — how it’s love that helps them solve what used to be lifelong problems. How they are living more consciously when they look in the mirror, how they love themselves more than they used to.
But maybe I was wrong. Because the love they experience is a comfortable, settling, brotha-ly sort of love. Which is nice and everything. But it’s not the I’ve-found-my-soul mate kind of passion that Charlie Pace describes over drinks with Desmond. When you find that kind of passion, it’s bound to be more like a rollercoaster. The ends aren’t going to get tied up neatly and nicely, as many of the Sideways story lines are.
Somebody might get killed.
When these Sideways characters catch their reflections in mirrors, is it really because they are looking into their own souls, searching for answers, in a way we never saw them do in the island world? Or is it because they are searching for a purpose they can never find, an island life they were meant to live, a world that can only exist in their dreams in this incarnation?
It’s the latter. They never needed to look in mirrors before, searching for adventure — they were already living it. They might have experienced a more messy, flawed existence, but they had to be that way so they could find fulfillment naturally.
No matter what, people need to believe that what they are doing is their “choice.” By definition, this Sideways, alternative reality was Jack’s choice (and, I guess you could say, the choice of those he convinced to go along with it). It takes away much of the Sideways characters’ free will.
And when it comes to describing the people in a Desmond-centric episode, it’s hard to not call them “characters.” I would normally call them “castaways” or “Losties.” Why is that?
Maybe because the rules really don’t apply to Desmond. He really is different.
Last week, my brother posed an important question: What do Richard and Desmond have in common?
Richard and Desmond both accidentally killed someone (the doctor and Kelvin Inman) and each time, the victim had his head cracked open on a rock, blood pouring out everywhere, much like the Man In Black’s crushed wine bottle.
Richard and Desmond each came to the island by boat, in a nasty storm. Neither one crashed on the island in an airplane. It wasn’t an electromagnetic anomaly that brought them there, nor was it some cult run by hippies.
When Richard embarked on his Black Rock journey, it was because he wanted to avoid execution. He ended up doing that, and then some, when he met Jacob and got the “gift” of everlasting life. When Desmond embarked on his “Elizabeth” journey (the boat that Libby randomly donated to him), he was on a mission to prove his worth to Charles Widmore, a man who had always stood between him and Penny, his true love. Desmond ended up doing that, and then some, with all his island heroics.
So Desmond and Richard do have a lot in common: They’re outsiders. The reason it’s so hard to not call the people they meet “characters” is because Richard and Desmond are almost mythological in their heroism. Their flaws have occurred in the name of love. That isn’t the case at all for the Flight 815 survivors. The castaways are much easier for viewers to identify with, but Richard and Desmond are the kind of fictional heroes we’d all like to be.
We’ve watched Richard and Desmond toil away on this island, whether it’s pushing a button or living forever. They are Lost’s knights of Camelot, the show’s crusaders, and viewers just want to see them win in the end.
What the Lost writers do so well, from week to week, is weave these story lines, use these archetypes to convey moral messages and yet, at the same time, create this suspense, this sci-fi tale that even people who hate sci-fi have absorbed. Smoke monsters and time travel have become average water cooler talk. The writers have created such a strong following that at this point, they can pretty much do whatever they want.
For example, last night’s episode showed us that because Desmond can withstand large amounts of electromagnetic activity, he can somehow travel to the Sideways reality when he’s unconscious, in his dreams. He’s the only island character so far who has experienced any connection between these two universes.
And then Daniel takes him aside and explains how he just has this feeling that he set off a nuclear bomb and changed all their lives. And as viewers, we’re so happy to see Daniel back on the show (and alive) that we’re supposed to buy that as a normal way of talking to someone.
This kind of stuff would never fly in past seasons.
And in a really major stretch, we learned last night that Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) and Eloise Hawking are aware of their Sideways reality and seem to prefer it that way. In a typical Eloise/Desmond conversation, she explains to Desmond that someone has changed his way of thinking and that his searching for Penny is a “violation.” It’s very similar to when she told him in the jewelry store that he had to go to the island and push the button, that it was the only important thing he’d ever do. She said, “whatever happened, happened.” She explained that time always course corrects itself.
In their latest conversation, Eloise says the same thing. But does she really believe it, knowing what she does?
We know that Widmore is aware of what’s happening because he has a Black Rock replica in his office. And instead of a polar bear painting, he now has a rendition of the scale that holds the black and white rocks. It’s done in the same style, painted by the same artist.
Should we be nervous that the black rock looks heavier?
The writers want viewers to believe that Jughead went off in 1977, and Widmore and Eloise escaped the island. And everything before 1977 occurred exactly the same way as it always had. The only reason the Widmores know that the universe changed is because Jack told them about his plan and Eloise has Miles’ journal.
They are doing the same thing Jack tried to do — change the world for selfish reasons. They’re being total control freaks, which isn’t surprising considering it’sthem.
I loved how Desmond’s greeting to Widmore was so similar to Richard’s greeting when he realized that the Man In Black had possessed Locke: “You!” And how great was that scene where Desmond hits Widmore with the IV stand? He’s had that coming for a long time.
And Desmond’s scene in the generator is much like The Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, whose third eye supposedly inspired the Dharma Station symbols. Add that one to the comic book list (we’ve already got a Batman and a Superman on the show).
What did everyone think of Sideways Desmond? In true Sideways style, many of the things he does are quite opposite of his island life, and yet also the same.
He approaches Claire and offers her a lift. On the island, he saved Claire from drowning.
He tells Minkowski that he’s not there for companionship; he’s there for work. The old Desmond did everything for love. He drifted from job to job, which included serving in the military and being a monk. He was never successful at any of those things. He wasn’t even successful at pushing the button — if he hadn’t missed pushing it that one fateful day, Flight 815 would never have crashed on the island. But this Sideways guy is “indispensable,” according to Widmore. He’s worthy of drinking the boss’ best Scotch, when in past episodes, Widmore told him the Scotch was worth more than Desmond could ever be.
Sideways Desmond seems to have a lot going for him, so why does he muddle through life obliviously typing on a BlackBerry? The old Desmond would have never done that — if anything, he was hyperaware of his life. He was so aware that he could even time travel in his mind from one life event to another.
On the island, Desmond tried to save Charlie’s life but was eventually unsuccessful. In the Sideways world, he manages to save him, but this version of Charlie hardly appreciates it.
On the island, Desmond could see flashes of the future and became a kind of guide for Charlie. But in this world, Charlie becomes Desmond’s guide. He helps him find Penny, his constant.
Just to be clear, these characters who appear in the Sideways reality, they aren’t constants for each other, not always. They are just inexplicably (to them) intertwined. You have to be pretty special to be someone’s constant. You have to be a Penny … or a Charlotte (who eats chocolate before dinner in this episode) … or even a Claire.
I loved how when Desmond gets his MRI, the orderly asks him the same questions Widmore’s goons ask on the island. And I will continue to call them goons because they get more bumbling every week. You’d think a billionaire could get a brighter staff!
And then just after asking if Desmond has any metal or keys, the hospital orderly says, “You need the button.” Desmond has a shocked response to this: “Whatbutton!?”
The writers added nice little winks in Eloise’s dialogue, too. I wish they could have done more of that for Widmore. When she meets Desmond, Eloise says, “It’s about time.” She’s obsessed with a list that’s confidential, just like Jacob’s lists. But Widmore’s dialogue delivery reads as ridiculous at points. I mean, how many times do we need to hear, “Or we’ll all be dead”?
Why do you all think Desmond wakes up so content and cooperative inside the generator, just after meeting Penny in his Sideways reality? “What happened to you?” Zoe asks him, in yet another use of that phrase. He doesn’t even act disturbed by half-dead Sayid.
At the end of the episode, when Desmond tells Minkowski that he wants to show the 815 passengers something, he gets this crazy, wide-eyed look, which is uncharacteristic of him. What are we to make of this? He also says something very Jacob-like to Charlie when they’re in the bar together: “There’s always a choice, brotha.”
Despite all that, nobody can say that Henry Ian Cusick isn’t fantastic in this episode. That scene when he meets Penny, the feeling and chemistry those two always express upon meeting, in any world, was so moving. How does an actor do that, all the while knowing that the version of his character he’s currently playing behaves differently than he normally would?
For example, could Terry O’Quinn show the Smoke Monster falling in love with Helen (Locke’s sweetheart) on the island? Could he do it in a believable way? I think not. And he’s Terry friggin’ O’Quinn!
As usual, any questions, comments, and answers welcome below! Please, by all means, expand on the theme of love and how it can help the castaways get back to the lives they were “supposed to lead,” because I have no idea how they’ll be able to do that. We’re not talking about time travel anymore, people. We’re talking about separate dimensions.