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Lost

Lost is a drama about a group of plane crash survivors. They land on an unknown Pacific island and have to learn to live together. ABC 2004-2010

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Episode 5 - The Constant

30 March 2012

Present: As Frank follows the coordinates that Daniel gave him to get back to the boat, Desmond freaks out and doesn’t seem to know where he is. The freighter crew take Desmond to their sick bay where he meets George Minkowski who seems to be suffering the same problems. Sayid calls Jack and Daniel directs Desmond how to proceed. Desmond calls Penny who answers and he recovers while George dies.

Flashback: Desmond is in the army in 1996 in Scotland. He follows Daniel’s instructions and makes his way to Oxford. There the younger Faraday explains that his consciousness is travelling back and forth in time. To avoid dying he needs a “constant,” something that will be familiar to him in both times. Desmond rushes to London where he asks Charles Widmore for Penny’s address. He then begs Penny to give him her phone number and says he will call her in eight years.

The Good: On almost every criteria one can judge this, it is outstanding. It’s an exhilarating episode from start to finish. It’s difficult to explain why in a coherent fashion. I will just work my way through chronologically.

The story grips you from the opening scene and like most good stories takes you on a journey with the central figure. Only the audience and Desmond truly understand what is going on and we are bonded to him by our desire to understand what he is going through which in most viewers cases will lead to wanting Desmond to succeed. It’s a simple formula applied to a complex story and it is tightly written and produced.

Intensity is another key to what makes this so good. Desmond’s acting throughout is excellent and his screaming anger and desperation at the start are very convincing and begin the creation of the tension which runs through the whole episode. The question of what is happening to him as he jumps back and forth is a tremendous hook. Then Daniel Faraday steps in to play Doc Brown from (Back to the Future) in this scenario and the time travel explanation cranks the interest level up another notch as we realise Desmond isn’t having any normal kind of flashback.

The use of the bloody nose is an excellent dramatic effect. In this modern era where shows from 24 to Ugly Betty are required to have cliff hangers and dramatic revelations every episode it becomes increasingly difficult to generate genuine drama. Drama that makes you believe there will be lasting, damaging consequences for a character. In the intense rush to get to Oxford Desmond’s story is intriguing but only when Eloise dies does the story begin to take on a real sense of danger for Desmond. Even Faraday’s offhand comment “I would be careful crossing the street if I were you” adds to that danger by illustrating how little control Desmond has over his situation. George Minkowski is in place to show us what the future holds for Desmond and he plays his role well. His death once more closes Desmond’s window for success a little further.

Then there is Penny’s involvement. Again with a thousand love stories on television and in movies every year it is not easy to create authentic or genuinely moving romance. Yet the writing is strong and the acting even better as the too somehow make a time travelling love story feel real and moving (see Best Moment). Their phone call also feels as if it brings the survivors one step closer to home.

The acting as I said is excellent. Faraday has quickly become very real to us in these first five episodes. Jeremy Davies has brought him to fidgety, stuttering, awkward life with real aplomb. Desmond though is the star of the show, playing the sympathetic romantic lead superbly. He plays confusion, horror, desperation and relief with such a likeable charm. Credit the writers who make him polite and deferential (see the way he treats Mr Widmore) despite the trauma he is going through. Demond’s moments of realisation when he sees the calendar and his reflection are drawn out well in the direction and his short hair and clean cut appearance in the past really help with the plausible distinction between past and present.

From a wider perspective there is a huge amount to like here as well. Desmond’s eight year shift in time is a result of his exposure to the electromagnetic release when the Hatch imploded in his face (224). Again that gives you the sense that everything which happens in Lost happens for a reason and has real consequences. The writers once again find a new way to play with the flashbacks formula and this is surely the most innovative and intense use of the jumps between narrative they have come up with. It’s almost the complete Lost story because for once what is happening in the future immediately affects the present. We get answers to some questions here too. We see the source of Daniel’s memory loss (prolonged radiation exposure) and learn what happened to George. We get some juicy info on Charles Widmore’s potential interest and knowledge of the island (he buys a journal from the Black Rock [124] from a member of the Hanso family [203]). Then we have Frank flying the helicopter toward a storm at dusk and suddenly appearing in sunlight in the middle of the day when he lands on the freighter. Confirmation that the island exists in some kind of bubble from the real world.

The Constant amazingly seems to make sense of the episode Flashes before your Eyes (308) and how time travel functions in Lost. It seems Desmond neither hallucinated the events of his past, nor travelled through time physically to relive them. Instead his consciousness was able to jump back and exist there for a time before the hatch implosion jolted him back to the island. So it would seem he did leave Penny again and now that has become what really happened. Again it’s so important that the producers explain what happened in that episode and didn’t leave it hanging if the show is to really engage every possible fan.

The Bad: The Lost writers attempted to cover themselves from time travel paradoxes with Miss Hawkins speech (in episode 308) where she said that you can’t change the future by going back to the past. However we have to question here how Eloise knew the maze if she then dies before Daniel can teach her.

There are of course a few handy coincidences as well such as there being no crew members between the sick bay and the communications room. And Sayid’s engineering expertise knowing no bounds; except of course finding batteries which last longer than a couple of minutes (107, 123). It’s fortunate that Desmond didn’t jump back to the present in the eight hours or more it would take him to get from his barracks to Queens College Oxford or indeed the three hours minimum it would take to locate Widmore in London.

The Unknown: Who sabotaged the radio equipment and who left the door open for Sayid and Desmond? Could the side effects caused by time travel be the sickness which Rousseau refers to (109)? It would make sense as her crew came to the island on a boat as Minkowski did before they began showing symptoms of insanity. What is Charles Widmore’s interest or connection to the island?

At the very end of the episode Daniel finds a note saying that if anything goes wrong then Desmond will be his constant. The implication seems to be that Daniel doesn’t remember meeting Desmond anymore. However it seems an odd statement. First he implies that the constant needs to be something you really care about. It doesn’t seem like Daniel would care that much about Desmond. Also Desmond would only be a good constant for Daniel if he was displaced in 1996. If Daniel jumped to another time in his life he wouldn’t know where Desmond was. For a man who spent two years in the hatch and several in the army he would be a most inaccessible constant.

Best Moment: Penny and Desmond telling each other that they love the other on the phone. They fall all over each other with their words. Him saying he will never stop trying to reach her, her saying she will not stop looking. Tell me you didn’t feel something?

The Bottom Line: There are still more things I could say about this episode and how good it is. Season four has had one startling revelation after another but it will be difficult to top this. An action packed, mysterious, gripping, dramatic and romantic episode. The way the episode grabs your mind as well as your emotions is most impressive. Once again the writers’ ability to play with the flashback formula is really clever and they use it to create a tense episode which should keep even a casual fan glued to the edge of their seat. The implications for the rest of the show and the sense that the producers have a grip on the entire story they are telling are very comforting to see. Lost at its boundary stretching best.

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