'Lost': Can anyone live 'Happily Ever After' in the sideways timeline?

widmore-desmond-lost0406-320.jpgDes! Charlie! Faraday! Eloise! Penny! My " Lost" cup runneth over, with all these long-lost, underutilized, or simply missed characters returning in an episode that also shed some major light on the sideways timeline to boot.

I now feel bad for "The Package": an episode dangled in between "Ab Aeterno" and "Happily Ever After" as a kind of forgotten sandwich meat between two insanely delicious, brain-bending pieces of bread. Mileage may vary on which of these bookends delivered more, but for yours truly, this one far exceeded the admittedly great Richard-centric episode and provided the most emotional, most satisfying hour of the season. Onto the recap!

4) In Short

This drug makes me crazy
Makes me see you more clearly.
Oh, baby, now I can see you.
Wish I could stop,
Switch off the clock,
Make it all happen for you.

I'm alive
Oh Oh, so alive
I'm alive
Oh Oh, so alive
Love and Rockets, "So Alive"


8) What Desmond Did

We open on Des' eye. It doesn't snap open, as in episode openers in the past, but rather slowly unfurls. Zoe's there above him, having given him a shot to awaken him from his three days of slumber. He sees Widmore in the near distance, and realizes that he's no longer in the hospital in Los Angeles: He's in an infirmary on the Island. Cue the high-def twitching on Des' face as the news sinks in. While Widmore continues his explanation, Des grabs the IV stand and starts to pummel his kidnapper with it. Widmore's goons pull Des away while he screams to be returned to Penny, and a wounded Widmore sneers, "I can't take you back. The Island isn't done with you yet."

Widmore walks out of the room, tending to his freshly made forehead wound. He tells Zoe to prepare the "test." Zoe's worried, in that the test wasn't originally scheduled until tomorrow, but Widmore is insistent that it happen now. (I imagine his showdown with Smocke has accelerated all timelines.)  Zoe and Jin walk outside past a makeshift structure hooked into the power generator of the Hydra Station. Inside the station, the nerdy would-be mercs are prepping 1970's finest machinery for the experiment. Oh, hi, little white rabbit brought along for the ride! Are you about to experience a Casimir effect? Who's the good widdle wabbit?

Head Nerd syncs up a power test, but the generator fails soon after initialization. He orders an underling named Simmons to check out the conduits in the experimental room, and tells the rabbit Angstrom that he's next. While Simmons is checking out the room (replete with electric coils that look like the type of strainer used by bartenders), another of Widmore's Nerd Patrol finds the faulty switch inside the Hydra. The power goes on, and Simmons gets fried by the electromagnetic field generated therein. Needless to say, Des is less than happy to learn he's next up inside The Microwave of Mayhem.

Widmore's goons take Des inside and strap him to a chair inside. "I know how this looks, Desmond, but if everything I've heard about you is true, then you'll be fine." (So who told him? More on this in "Mythology" below.) He continues: "Once this is over, I'm going to ask you to make a sacrifice." Des is skeptical about Widmore's knowledge of sacrifice, but Widmore lays a few items on him: the death of Daniel Faraday, the hatred of Penny, and the absence of Charlie Hume from his life. He tells Des that everyone they love will be gone forever unless Des helps them.

Des breaks free from the chair after Widmore leaves, but is unable to leave the room. Inside, Jin pleads with Widmore to stop, but the latter insists that Des is the only man he knows that has survived a "catastrophic electromagnetic event," and such a talent will be needed in the war to come, "or we all die." With that, the engines rev up, the coils inside the makeshift room start to glow, Des grabs his ears, the world turns yellow, and...

We pass through the clouds, down into LAX, where Des looks at his reflection in an Oceanic Airlines arrival chart. Makes sense, since he's just arrived in this timeline. (More on THIS in "Mythology." In fact, take most of this recap as explained further in "Mythology." Just one of those eps.) Hurley walks past, and says, "It's carousel four." He remembers Des from the flight, and thus alerts his apparently lost flight companion to the proper luggage carousel. And whom does Des meet there? Why, Claire, of course. He helped protect her on the Island for a bit, and now he's here to help protect her from ... well, Hare Krishnas?

In any case, he asks if it's a boy or a girl. She's confused by the question, and he's embarrassed by the confusion. Claire tells him she doesn't know, to which he replies, "You're braver than I. I'm not a big fan of surprises." At that point, they both grab their bags and make to leave. He offers her a ride, noting that she's there alone. She declines, but as they part, he says, "A boy. I bet it's a boy." Hmmmm. A little down the hall, Des meets his driver: George Minkowski. In another life, the two were similarly unstuck in time. Now? They'll be similarly stuck in L.A. gridlock. Minkowski drives Des to the office of his boss: Charles Widmore.

The two greet each other warmly. Looks like Sideways Widmore has redecorated: no longer content to have paintings that look like this, he fancies paintings of legal scales with a black/white motif. The two have a familial vibe, in stark contrast to the one in the Island timeline. Widmore has an assignment: Deliver Charlie Pace from jail in order to perform with his talented, classical-musician playing son that night. I yelped at hearing Charlie's name, and may have fist-pumped upon realizing I might see Faraday tonight. (Luckily, there's no video footage of said yelping OR fist pumping. Dodged a bullet there.) Des readily agrees to escort Charlie to the event. Widmore praises Des' life, "free of attachments," and pours a glass of MacCutcheon whiskey for each of them to celebrate Desmond's "indispensability."

Des pulls up to the county jail, where Widmore's lawyer hands Charlie over to him. Charlie promptly walks across the street, seemingly with a death wish, and heads straight into the bar across the street. Inside, Des agrees to have one drink with the sullen rocker. Charlie sarcastically asks him, "Tell me Perky, are you happy?" He doubts that Des is. Why? Because he doesn't know about "consciousness-altering love." Oh, well then. But Charlie does, thanks to something he saw on Oceanic 815. See, after spying Edward Mars on the plane, he ducked into the bathroom to hide his stash. Unfortunately, at that moment, they hit turbulence, and Charlie realized that he was going to choke to death on the bag. So what happened then? Let's let Charlie tell us in his own words.

"It's over. Everything starts to go dark. Slipping into the abyss, and then...I see her. A woman. Blonde. Rapturously beautiful. And I know her. We're together. It's like we've always been, and always will be. It's this feeling, this ... love. And just as I'm about to be engulfed by it, I open my eyes, and this sodding idiot is standing there, asking me if I'm OK. But I saw it. Just for a second, I saw what it looked like. I've seen something real. I saw the truth."

Well then. Des isn't buying what Charlie's selling and gives Charlie a choice: Torpedo his music career, or have the powerful Charles Widmore owe him a favor. Charlie doesn't think that's much of a choice, but once in the car with Des, driving past a familiar marina, Charlie offers up a choice of his own to Des: See what he's talking about, or get out of the car. And just then, Charlie redirects the car into the marina where Desmond once sank, having been shot by Ben Linus. Des manages to escape from the car, reach the surface, take a deep breath, and go back under. As he tries to get Charlie out from the automobile, Charlie puts his hand to the glass. Images of "Through the Looking Glass" pulse back and forth onscreen and inside Des' mind before he successfully pulls Charlie to safety. (Whew. I need a cigarette. Right after I grab a Kleenex. Luckily, I bought six boxes once I learned this week was a Des-centric ep.)

In St. Sebastian's (the ONLY HOSPITAL in Los Angeles, apparently), a doctor checks on Des' eyes much in the way that the Kahana's doc did back in "The Constant." She notes that his tests came back inconclusive, so it's time for an MRI. Sure, dose him with EM energy, what could go wrong? Inside the MRI room, the doctor asks him the same series of questions that Widmore's goons did before turning on the Microwave of Mayhem. For good measure, the MRI technician gives Des a button to push -- a panic button, this time. Des is awesome at pushing buttons, after all.

As the machine hums to life, another life passes through Des' mind's eye: his old one, in fact. His real life. One full of "Not Penny's Boat" and a meeting at a monastery and the birth of a child and the music swells and ... we're back in the MRI, with Des frantically pressing the panic button. He heads upstairs, desperate to find Charlie. He employs the help of one Jack Shephard, whom he recognizes from their flight together. Jack seems it hard to believe that not only are they in the same hospital, but a THIRD person is also there? Oh, Jack, you don't know ... well, Jack, at this point. But you will soon, bruthah. You will soon enough.

Just then, a nightgown-clad Charlie busts in, running roughshod over you all, everybody that's in the hallways. Des eventually chases him down some stairs and corners him in a wing of the hospital, demanding to see the rocker's hands for signs of writing. Charlie realizes that Des did see/feel something from the other side, and suggests that Des go looking for the "Penny" he saw in his vision rather than keep pursuing him for the charity event later. "This doesn't matter. None of this matters. All that matters is that we felt it." Amen.

Widmore's less than thrilled about Desmond losing Charlie, and suggests he tell Mrs. Widmore in person. Awesome! It's Eloise Time! She's under a large tent, educating the help staff on the proper placement of a butter knife. Desmond greets her, and she essentially soils herself upon seeing him. She tries to cover it up, dismissing the problems with Charlie as a mere triviality. Relieved to not receive the verbal thrashing he anticipated, Des makes to leave, but overhears a planner mention "Penny Milton." Interested, he asks to see the list, but Eloise steps in and starts asserting herself in a more aggressive fashion. Eloise pulls Des aside as the camera passes behind a familiar-looking mullet, and HERE we go, people. Not unlike Donkey Kong, it's now on.

She clears the entire wait staff off so they can talk in private. "I want you to stop," she says, calling his newly colored perspective on the world a "violation." She tells him she has to stop looking for whatever it is he's looking for. "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." Des is shocked by Eloise's knowledge. Hey, it's not the first time. She leaves by telling him he's not "ready" to see what's really going on. Despondent, Des gets back in the limo, but a knock on the window prevents him from leaving. That hand belongs to one Daniel Faraday. Well, Daniel Widmore in this timeline, my bad. And they need to talk. Hey, guess what? I need to hear them talk. Win, win.

Daniel and Des sit on a nearby bench. Des apologizes about the Driveshaft mishap, but Daniel's got other things on his mind: "Do you believe in love at first sight, Mr. Hume?" Des, no longer shocked by strangers talking schmaltz off the bat to him, sits down besides Daniel. The latter waxes lovingly about the first time he saw a certain museum employee named Charlotte Staples Lewis eating a chocolate bar. Much like Charlie, he remembered a love that felt instantaneous, lived in, almost as if from another life. "And that's when things got weird," he says.

He busts out a journal. It's not THE journal, but one page sure contains the type of scribbling that belongs in the one we know and love. He didn't understand what he wrote, because he's a musician, not a mathematician, in this timeline. His friend at Caltech helped decipher the writing for him, and I think it's best to give Daniel his own little paragraph to explain that page in his own words.

"Imagine that something was about to happen, something catastrophic. And the only way to stop it was by releasing a huge amount of energy. Like setting off a nuclear bomb. What if this -- all this -- what if this wasn't supposed to be our life? What if we had some other life, and for some reason, we changed things? I don't want to set off a nuclear bomb, Mr. Hume. I think I already did."

Daniel then follows up by probing Des' search for Penny. As the Des/Penny musical motif plays, Faraday notes that Des felt love. Des denies it, noting that he knows nothing about her. Luckily, as her half-brother, Daniel not only knows her, but also where she'll be. Where is that? Why, running stadium steps at the very place Des and Penny once said goodbye in another life, bruthah. He greets her at the bottom of the stairs, both tentative but somehow excited to be face-to-face. They shake hands, and ...

... Des wakes up, back in the Microwave of Mayhem on Hydra Island. Widmore looks supremely satisfied to see his hunch pay off, noting that Des was only out for a few seconds. He tries to pre-emptively apologize, but Des is strangely calm: "I understand. You told me you brought me here to the Island to do something important. When do we start?" As Zoe and company walk Des back to the Hydra, she tries to find out what happened to Des in the room. He's coy about it, but before he can give her any straight answers, Ninja Zombie Sayid comes out of the jungle, takes out two men, tells Zoe to flee, and insists that Desmond leave these "dangerous" people behind. A still Zen-like Des happily agrees, and tells Sayid to lead the way ...

... but back in the sideways world, Penny is attempting to wake Des up. Looks like he fainted when they touched hands. She asks if they've met before, and he in turn asks her for a coffee. She's sweaty, he just fainted -- they're perfect for each other! Sigh. She agrees to meet him for coffee in an hour. In the limo, Des has one more request for George: the plane manifest for Oceanic 815. He's got something he wants to show some of the passengers.

Game. On.

15) What I Did

I laughed. I cried. I giggled. I cheered. I tried to keep my brain firmly entrenched between my ears. I realized I'm going to miss this show very, very, very much.

16) The Moment

I have to pick one? Damnit, I hate my rules. I'll go for the MRI montage, because just those few shots conjured up years of memories for me as well as for Desmond.

23) The Mythology

Normally, I spend this section breaking things down paragraph after unrelated paragraph. That works fine for most episodes, but this isn't most episodes. I'll be breaking things further down on my blog over the next few days, but let me try to offer up a possible way to think about the implications of tonight.

It's tempting to look at what Widmore's doing on the Island as a way to amass a world in which all that he's lost is now in his possession in the sideways timeline. But I think that's a shortsighted approach. In fact, I think it's reasonable to assume that the Charles Widmore on the Island thinks in his heart of hearts that he's the good guy here, operating for once out of something approximating selflessness. He's still on Team Widmore, not Team Jacob nor Team Smocke, but he's brought Desmond to the Island to win the war and prevent those he loves from ceasing to be.

Here's the problem. He's operating under false marching orders, delivered to him by Eloise Hawking. Let me try to explain.

If Sideways Widmore knew what the hell was going on in the sideways universe, he would NEVER allow Driveshaft to perform at that concert. He would NEVER send Desmond into the path of Eloise Hawking. These are the things done by a man who lives in tyrannical fear of his domineering wife: a woman who could kill you with a mislaid butter knife as soon as look at you, and a woman who probably put that new painting in his office as an inside joke, the kind of which The Man in Black would undoubtedly approve. That concert was not the brainchild of Eloise Widmore, but of Daniel Widmore, anxious to bring his constant back into the fold to unravel the mystery that started the moment he saw Charlotte eating a chocolate bar in that museum.

On Twitter last week, Damon Lindelof insisted that after "Happily Ever After," the conversation would change. And I think it's finally time to state the truth: the sideways timeline is WRONG. It's incorrect. It's immoral. It's real, but it's not right. It must be undone, in some fashion, for things to be even close to happily ever after for anyone. It's not that Eloise can't understand why Des isn't satisfied with his so-called "perfect" life; it's that she doesn't want Desmond to understand why it's not perfect. But here's the kicker: All along, I've been thinking about the sideways timeline as something created as a theoretical possibility of Smocke's escape from the Island: I never thought that Eloise Hawking would be the primary beneficiary of that possible world.

Back in "Flashes Before Your Eyes," we met Eloise Hawking, a woman with a keen sense of the machinations of the universe and a brooch that raised more than a few implications about the nature of causality in the "Lost" universe. Since then, we've expanded, though not completely filled in, our understanding of this woman: an Other, a mother, and a murderer, caught in a closed circle from which she was unable to escape. That is, of course, until the day she stopped Daniel from pursuing his first love (music) and pushed him into the field that would fulfill his irreversible destiny but perhaps provide a glimmer of hope after his death to finally break the cycle endlessly going round and round.
 
In other words: Like The Man in Black, she was looking for a loophole. In fact, I'd go so far to say that she helped create the damn thing with him. Go back and rewatch the scene in "The Variable" in which she stops Daniel from playing the piano. She emerges from her kitchen, almost as if she's just had a conversation with someone. As if she's just received terrible news. Is it truly terrible, however, or merely terrifying? What if Eloise Hawking is the "Lost" version of "Fringe's" Walter Bishop, willing to undo an entire universe to once again be with her lost child? Rewatch every action of adult Eloise and reconfigure it as a way to get her son back in her arms, EVEN IT MEANS UNDOING REALITY TO DO SO, and things make a lot of sense. "Look, I'll help you," I can see her saying to Smocke (or one of his emissaries ... say, Cabin Christian), "But in return, I want to remember what happened. In fact, I can make sure that the new reality stays in put. Just give me back my son."

It's an understandable instinct, but as mentioned before, a brutally immoral one. By pushing Faraday harder than ever to conceive of the Jughead plan, she in turn created the possibility for Smocke's escape, which in turn offered her the chance to be with Daniel again. We've seen Smocke promise people what they want, over and over again, only to see the cracks in his promises show in this theoretical (yet simultaneously meaningful) timeline. Think of this sideways timeline like "The Matrix": sure as hell feels real, but it's simply a smokescreen (pun intended), a false world that masks the real one. Now, most people don't seem to mind this false one: as Radiohead might say, it looks like the real thing, taste like the real thing. But this fake plastic world is just that, and gravity always wins. Or, in this case, electromagnetism.

So that's my insta-take on things: The sideways world is one dreamed up by The Man in Black with Eloise's help, unwittingly executed by Widmore, with Sideways Des now the wild card about to show some of his mile-high buddies a thing or two about what it feels like to be truly alive. Again, much more on this on the blog in the following few days.

42) Other Thoughts

Props to the people that thought Charlie's "I'm supposed to die" line in "LA X" was spoken with knowledge of the other timeline and not simply delivered as a metatheatrical device by Darlton. You were 100% right, I was 100% wrong. Doesn't much matter that Charlie didn't consciously understand what he saw. He understood the true meaning of his vision, and that's what mattered.

I'm not willing to vault "Happily Ever After" above "The Constant" just yet, but what the two episodes share is the triumph of emotion over scientific wonkery. I don't care what the mechanism by which Des' brain travels hither and thither is. I just care that all roads lead him back to Penny. In fact, Des, Charlie, and Daniel all suffer tremendously in this supposed "better" world without even a CHANCE to either be with the one they love or at least simply tell them how they feel. Just when the show threatens to collapse under its own weight of demi-gods engaged in a thousand-year war, along comes a simple reminder that above all, it's these characters -- how they interact with each other, and above all, how they FEEL about each other -- who are paramount to the ultimate end game of the show.

I have no explanation for how Des disappeared from Jack's seat in "LA X." None. At. All. The idea that he was in one seat when it took off, then sat in a vacant one near Jack for funsies, then moved while Jack was in the bathroom, seems ... lame? I think that's the word. "Lame." But honestly, I got nothing. If you do, I'm all ears.

Loved Eloise's invocation of "Whatever happened, happened." If ANYONE knows that's not true, it's her. For more insight into her possible past that led to this possible timeline, please go here and here.

Given the show's shout-out to "Back to the Future," I had this moment of imagining Sideways Daniel try to fight Sideways Sawyer over Charlotte. "Hey, you, take your damn hands off her..."

I thought Season 5 did a little damage to Des/Penny as a couple. Even with the lovely addition of their son Charlie to the mix, the couple seemed to work better apart than together. But this episode reaffirmed them as one of the show's seminal couples, with their bond able to bust through the cracks between the two timelines. Just gorgeous stuff. Sonya Walger showed more spark in 30 seconds of "Lost" than she has in a season over at "FlashForward," which says much less about Sonya Walger and a lot more about "FlashForward."

I imagine we're about to see some desperation to maintain the status quo over there in Sideways Land to coincide with whatever's happening on the Island. As I previously suspected, Hurley's "good luck" is in fact "abjectly terrifying luck," now that we know the sideways world needs to be escaped/undone. I'm willing to wager that Des is fine to do whatever needs to be done on the Island (like blindly follow Sayid) because the important work to blend these two timelines back into one reality needs to happen in the sideways timeline, NOT the Island one. It's not that the Island timeline isn't important, but Island Des is drawing attention away from the real work so it might actually succeed. (In short: he's Aragorn, drawing the Eye of Sauron away from Frodo. Who, in this scenario, is Desmond again, albeit Sideways Desmond. "Lost," everybody! Good times. Good times.)

108) Final Thoughts

THE best episode of the season, hands down. "The Substitute" and "Dr. Linus" were outstanding, but this was all-time great. The fact that it was Des-centric probably has something to do with it. The fact that my main man Faraday came back probably has something to do with it. The fact that we got our first real concrete view of the sideways timeline probably has a LOT to do with it. I've already written a novella about this tonight; so I'll stop for now and let you have your say.

Did it blow your mind, bruthahs and sistahs? Does your sense of the sideways timeline line up with mine? And where does the show go as it hits the home stretch? Leave your thoughts below!


Ryan writes about "Lost" over at Zap2it's Guide to Lost. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It's Guide to Lost Twitter feed and Zap2it's main feed for all the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.

Photo credit: ABC
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