The Constant (S4, ep. 5)

Penelope: “Hello?”
Desmond: “Penny?”

Some things are universal. Some feelings, some desires, are shared across ages and continents and cultures. Most of us, maybe all of us, burn for a great and unassailable love in our lives, a love as long as it is constant.

“The Constant” taps deep into that very human ache – the need to connect, to reaffirm, but maybe most importantly, the need to yearn. It’s one of Lost’s very best episodes, if not it’s very best.

Thoughts:

• Have you read the incredible roundtable interview with Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Bryan Burk over on GQ.com? It’s fascinating, entertaining stuff and very much worth your time.

• The bearing of 305 degrees seems to run along a corridor/tunnel of stable space/time. Crossing out of that corridor will expose you to the time-dilation bubble/field.

• Desmond’s consciousness jumps as a result of being exposed to the bubble/field. It’s interesting to note that his consciousness jumps forward into his present-day body. His last jump, seen in “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” was backward into a past body.

• Juliet doesn’t seem to be aware of the time-anomaly that surrounds the Island, indicating that some of the Others don’t have a complete picture of the Island any more than the castaways do.

Daniel: “There might be….side effects.”

• Here’s what we know about the time-bubble and these ‘side effects.’ People exposed to high levels of either radiation or electromagnetism experience an unchaining of their consciousness when they travel a certain distance away from the Island without having followed the apparently-safe ‘corridor.’ The human body doesn’t appear able to handle this unchaining – the end-result of having one’s mind ping-pong back and forth between past and present appears to be death. Why is consciousness-traveling such a big, big part of the show now? Why has it become such a heavily featured plot-point? We’ll talk about that below.

• We get our first look at the freighter, which is named “Kahana.” Apparently this is the ship’s actual name, so there’s nothing to over-analyze here.

• Martin Keamy makes his first appearance on the show. Keamy is played by Kevin Durand, a terrific character actor from films like 3:10 To Yuma and the agreeably-terrible remake of Walking Tall. He was also apparently named as one of Canada’s funniest comedians in 1994. Who knew?

• It’s never stated outright, but I think that we can assume that Desmond was discharged from the Army because of his wiggy behavior in this episode.

Omar: “We last ported in Fiji. So at least we know we’re still in the Pacific.”

• That’s an interesting comment, but also potentially misleading. The arrival of the freighter seems to confirm that the Island exists someplace on the Earth, but the bubble/field that surrounds the Island raises the question of just where/when the Island really is. My suspicion? It’s “outside” of time and space, with a small ‘window’ linking it to our regular, every-day reality. It’s a literal Island, but it’s also a figurative Island – existing by itself in a vast ocean of space/time. 

Minkowski: “It’s happening to you too, isn’t it?”

• Minkowski makes his first appearance. He’s played by Fisher Stevens, who is probably best known to me as “Ben Jahrvi/ Jabituya,” the Indian scientist from the Short Circuit movies. I’m not sure what’s more amusing to me – that Stevens, who is Caucasian, spent two films playing an ethnicity that was not his own, or that his character’s last name seems to change between films.

• I think it’s interesting to note that Minkowski’s consciousness appears to be traveling backward from the present to the past – the exact opposite of Desmond.

Great Dr. Ray Line: “And how are you feeling?”

• Doctor Ray, the freighter’s physician, is never given a last name on the show. He’s played by Marc Vann, an actor that I recognized from Joss Whedon’s “Angel,” where he played Dr. Sparrow, the Wolfram & Hart physician who gives Gunn his legal-download.

• A pattern emerges: Desmond left his first gal for the Monastery. He leaves Penny for the Army. In both cases he’s looking for meaning and purpose in structure, brotherhood and community.

Daniel: “I need my journal, or I won’t believe him.”

• Is it just me, or do Daniel and Desmond end up creating a paradox that’s remarkably similar to the problem of Richard’s Compass? Faraday gets Desmond to go to Oxford in 1996 in order to help Desmond stabilize himself. But he also provides Desmond with information that will allow past-Daniel to complete his first successful time/consciousness experiment – an experiment that will lead to the ravaging of Daniel’s mind and, ultimately, will lead Daniel to the Island, where he will then be in the perfect position to send Desmond to Oxford. It’s a kind of elaborate loop – one with no real beginning or ending – and it reminds me of the Ouroboros that we saw Ms. Hawking wearing during “Flashes Before Your Eyes.”

• And speaking of Ms. Hawking – does this sequence of events intend to imply that Hawking had to help influence/guide Desmond in order to ensure that her own son’s tragic fate came to pass?

• And speaking of tragedy, how about that haircut, Daniel?

Daniel: “You can’t change the future.”

• It’s implied that Daniel and Desmond may have always met together the way that we see them do here – that Desmond isn’t changing the past, he’s simply doing what he’s always done – leaving the mantra of “whatever happened, happened” undisturbed. Daniel’s fractured mind may have simply left him without the memory of their meeting, although that doesn’t explain why Desmond wouldn’t remember this.

• Something’s bubbling up inside me as I’m watching this episode – a theory for the endgame of the show. It’s not original, I’m sure of that. But it is, I think, very fitting, and it makes a ton of sense as I’m rewatching and remembering all of the details and hints that have been layered into Season 4. If you’re concerned about spoiling anything for yourself I suggest that you skip all the way on down to the picture of Desmond located below. Do that, and you’ll avoid my theory completely.

Still here? Ready? Here we go….

We know that it takes high levels of exposure to electromagnetism OR radiation in order to send a person’s (or an animal’s) mind backward or forward in time. We’re told this explicitly by Daniel, and we’re shown this directly as Daniel hits his lab rat (I love that he’s named the rat after his mother – a simultaneously affectionate and insulting gesture) with his Cosmic Ray Gun.

We’re then shown how Eloise the rat is able to run a maze that she’s never encountered before – because her mind traveled forward to later in the day, at a point of time in which Daniel had already taught her how to run the maze. The rat’s mind snapped forward to a point where the rat’s body had already trained to know how to get from one end of the maze to the other without hitting any dead ends. The rat’s mind then snapped back, and it seemed to retain either the actual memory of how to run the maze, or a kind of instinctual subconscious memory. Either way, same result. The rat runs the maze with ease.

Here’s where I lay down the crazy and invite you to partake:

Ben: “I feel for you, John. I really do. You keep hitting dead ends.”

I’d like to suggest that the maze in this scene acts as a metaphor for the lives of the characters on the show – for the events that we’ve witnessed so far, up to and including the Season 5 finale. The castaways are the rats, and they’re running the figurative maze of their lives – a maze that, as every human being can attest, seems complex and fraught with dead ends to them as they move through it, but which would appear more understandable and more navigable if viewed from an elevated perspective (with hindsight, one might say).

With the detonation of Jughead in the Season 5 finale, the castaways have unleashed a massive amount of radiation – the very thing needed to send their own consciousnesses backward in time. That’s what I think is going to happen, and what has already happened before – Jack and Co’s minds are going to go hurtling backward in time, and in doing so they will retain their knowledge (probably on an instinctual, subconscious level) of what they’ve done, right or wrong, in advancing as far as we’ve seen them advance by the end of Season 5 . They’ve been trained – presumably through Jacob – to more effectively run their life-maze, and I believe that part of the Season 6 storyline will require those castaways who were present at the detonation to attempt to make different decisions this time as they run the maze of the show again.

Daniel: “These are all variables. It’s random, it’s chaotic. Every equation needs stability – something known. It’s called a constant.”

But what about “Whatever happened, happened?” Doesn’t that mean that the castaways can’t make different decisions? That’s a good question. We’ve been told, time and time again, that the past can’t be changed. But we’ve also been told that people are variables in the constant of time. If time is a river, then individual actions are like pebbles dropped in that river – each making small ripples and affecting the overall stream in minute ways that don’t arguably ‘matter’ in the greater scheme of things. But, if I understand Daniel’s reasoning correctly from the end of Season 5, if enough pebbles get dropped in a certain place, the cumulative effect of them can cause the stream to change in some way.

To put it another way: imagine that the past is a maze. Its walls are unchanging, unalterable – a physical representation of “whatever happened, happened.” The choices that a rat can make in running this maze are limited, but there are still choices – pivotal moments that can lead a rat to a dead end or to the exit. Those choices, made by individuals, are variables, and they can make the difference between successfully running the maze and becoming trapped in it forever.

Jack: “We have to go back, Kate.”

Throughout the course of the show we’ve watched as Jack has struggled with a seemingly-instinctual desire to “go back,” to “fix things.” What if this bone-deep drive comes, not just from Jack’s personality, but from the forgotten memory of having done all of this before? On a deep level – a subconscious-memory/Karmic level (depending on how you want to describe this) – Jack is aware that he’s made wrong turns, and he’s aching to put it right. He wants to go back to the beginning of the maze and start again.

Philip K. Dick’s book “VALIS,” which we discussed in the last column, talks about the concept of “anamnesis” – a word that roughly means “the loss of forgetfulness,” a state in which he remembered things that he did not know he had forgotten. This sounds very similar to the idea of remembering “past lives,” and both concepts are nifty ways to describe what the castaways may be experiencing – a feeling that this has all happened before, that they’ve forgotten something important – the looping backward of their minds into their ‘past’ bodies – a process which they may be repeating over and again.

Ben: “He changed the rules.”

We haven’t gotten to “The Shape of Things to Come,” yet, but if my theory is correct it would explain the presence of ‘rules,’ as well as the future-knowledge that some people on the show appear to possess. If some people – Ben, Widmore, Hawking – are aware of the fact that events are repeating, that these castaways are looping back over and again in order to learn an unknown lesson and run their figurative maze more readily, they might be able to somehow document this and make their past selves aware of certain facts. They could potentially profit off this information. And they could make preparations, plan ahead, construct a runway for a yet-to-appear plane, gather important information on strangers who will be arriving on the Island, predict, with impressive accuracy, what certain people’s choices and decisions might be. They might even agree with one another not to interfere with certain events in order to preserve the structure and integrity of the maze itself.

How would they do this? They might keep a journal like Daniel’s, and use the knowledge they’ve collected in order to share it with their past selves. Such knowledge might be contained in a journal – one that we see Widmore successfully bidding on in this episode. He isn’t the only wealthy and mysterious individual interested in getting their hands on the Black rock journal. We see a number of unnamed others (Others?) attempting to buy it. We know that the Lamp Post station can help to predict the location of the Island, so why would Widmore need a journal to show him how to get to the Island? Maybe it’s because what’s in the journal isn’t simply Island-faring instructions. Maybe its much more….

Finally (swipe to read – this constitutes a slight Season 6 spoiler): we know that the premiere episode of the final season is titeld “LA X.” I’m going to suggest that “LA X” is meant to be read as “Los Angeles 10” – suggesting that the consciousness’ of the castaways who were present at the detonation of Jughead will be hurtled back into their past bodies, giving them the knowledge of the past seasons while allowing them to use that knowledge in order to make it to the end of the figurative maze, and that this is the tenth iteration of this cycle – a cycle that greatly resembles reincarnation. Why should ‘reincarnation’ sound familiar to a Lost fan? Why, because it’s an anagram for “Canton-Rainer” – a fictional company whose logo appears in Season 5. 

HAVE I BLOWN YOUR MIND?

…probably not. Still, I think it’s pretty compelling for a theory and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you decide to share it with others I’d appreciate any credit/derision thrown its way.

We now return you to our regularly-scheduled column.

Best. Desmond-face. Ever.

Seriously – his expression makes him look like a cartoon character. I love it.

• We find out that the crew was under strict orders not to answer any phone calls from Penelope Widmore. I’m assuming that she began calling once she talked to Charlie and discovered the existence of her father’s boat.

• Let the nosebleeds begin! This is the first episode that lays down the time-sickness rules for us. We learn that unless you locate something or someone that is important to you in both times, your consciousness eventually fails to return to the proper point in time and you die – fairly horribly. Interestingly, the writers make a point during this episode of underlining that one’s constant can be a ‘thing.’ It’s only on further consideration that Daniel agrees that a constant can also be a person. The time-sickness that we see here seems to be the same basic malady that begins to affect those people who are stuck on the time-hopping Island in Season 5.

Auctioneer: “The Black Rock set sail from Portsmouth, England, March 22, 1845, on a trading mission to the kingdom of Siam when she was tragically lost at sea. The only known artifact of this journey is the journal of the ship’s first mate.”

• Who is selling this rare-and-secretly-Island-related artifact? Why, it’s Tovar Hanso – a descendant of Magnus Hanso (Captain of the Black Rock) and Alvar Hanso (supposed founder of the Dharma Initiative). The auctioneer makes a point of emphasizing that the contents of the journal are unknown outside of the Hanso family, and that the journal was discovered “on Île Sainte-Marie, off the coast of Madagascar.”

What does this signify? Well, it could be the means by which Widmore re-locates the Island. We know that in 1996 (the year of this auction) Widmore has been exiled and has not found his way back. Perhaps the Black Rock journal holds clues on how to find the Island? That’s the simplest, easiest answer.

There’s another possibility, though – one that links in with the theory I disclosed above. If you’ve read the theory then you know what I’m talking about. 

Desmond: “Why do you hate me so much?
Widmore (chuckling): “It’s not me who hates you.”

• It’s brilliant to have Desmond waiting for Widmore while he relieves himself. I think the exchange above is interesting, and there are two very different ways to take it: (1) Widmore cares for Desmond not at all, and is simply rubbing Desmond’s nose in misery when he supplies him with Penny’s address, confident that Penny has fallen out of love with our favorite wild-eyed Scot. (2) Widmore is referring to something far more ‘cosmic’ when he says “it’s not me who hates you.” Widmore is chuckling, because he is aware of what fate has in store for Desmond, and because he’s aware that, no matter what Desmond does, he’s going to wind up far away from Penny. He’s playing his part here, just as Ms. Hawking does in “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” giving Desmond Penny’s address because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

Is there any support for this possibility? I’d argue that, yes, there is: the photo of Desmond and Penny. We’ll soon discover that Widmore chartered the freighter, and that Penny had nothing to do with it. Despite this, Naomi has Desmond’s photo, pretty much directly implying that Widmore knows Desmond is on the Island. What else do we know? We know that Hawking and Widmore used to be a team, that Widmore still has Hawking’s number, and that Hawking is intent on….getting Desmond to the Island.

Desmond/Penny: “I love you.”

• For all of its strengths, the full power of “The Constant” arrives near the episode’s end – when Desmond finally makes contact with Penelope. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a television moment as devastatingly passionate and powerful as this (there are moments scattered throughout both “Buffy” and “Angel” that are similar – but not nearly as affirming). That universal human yearning that I mentioned at the start of this column? It’s here, blazing as brightly as I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction. Across oceans and years and past pain, two lovers reconnect so warmly that it absolutely shatters me as a viewer. I won’t lie and say that I cried when I rewatched this moment – what I experienced was better: chills of recognition. The woman I love, who I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my life with, is my Constant. My anchor. My Penelope. And watching this episode rammed home to me what felt like the full force of my feeling for her, leaving me exhilarated.

And I suspect that no matter your relationship status, this scene worked similar magic on you. Whether you’re dating, married, divorced, single or other, we all hope or know that there’s someone out there that we’d fight armies to be with – even if we haven’t yet met them. We’re all Desmond and Penelope, burning to return home.

• As if “The Constant” hadn’t given us enough already, the episode ends on quite the stinger: the revelation that past-Daniel has written “If anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume will be my constant” in his notebook. This revelation connects a number of dots: Desmond’s visit to the past is what inspires Daniel to try his machine on himself. The fact that Daniel’s journal ends up in the hands of his young mother at the end of Season 5 explains how it is that Ms. Hawking becomes aware of Desmond Hume’s existence. It may even explain why it is that Widmore sends his daughter to the Mt. Moriah Monastery in order to pick up wine.

“The Constant” joins “Greatest Hits” among my favorite episodes – balancing humor, pathos, excitement, humor and heart with the kind of seeming-effortlessness that is always the result of enormous, admirable effort.

*****

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Missed a column? Catch up here:

Season 4

• Eggtown (S4 ep. 4)
• The Economist (S4 ep. 3)
• Confirmed Dead (S4 ep. 2)
• The Beginning of The End (S4 ep. 1)

Season 3

• Through The Looking Glass (S3 ep. 22 & 23)
• Greatest Hits (S3 ep. 21)
• The Man behind The Curtain (S3 ep. 20)
• The Brig (S3 ep. 19)
• D.O.C. (S3 ep. 18)
• Catch 22 (S3 ep. 17)
• One of Us (S3 ep. 16)
• Left Behind (S3 ep. 15)
• Exposé (S3 ep. 14)
• The Man from Tallahasse (S3 ep. 13)
• Par Avion (S3 ep. 12)
• Enter 77 (S3 ep. 11)
• Tricia Tanaka is Dead (S3 ep. 10)
• Stranger in a Strange Land (S3 ep. 09)
• Flashes before your Eyes (S3 ep. 08)
• Not In Portland (S3 ep. 07)
• I Do (S3 ep. 06)
• The Cost of Living (S3 ep. 05)
• Every Man for himself (S3 ep. 04)
• Further Instructions (S3 ep. 03)
• The Glass Ballerina (S3 ep. 02)
• Season 3 Premiere

Season 2

• 
Season 2 finale
• Three Minutes (S2 ep. 22)
• ? (S2 ep. 21)
• Two for The Road (S2 ep. 20)
• S.O.S. (S2 ep. 19)
• Dave (S2 ep. 18)
• Lockdown (S2 ep. 17)
• The Whole Truth (S2 ep. 16)
• Maternity Leave (S2 ep. 15)
One of Them (S2 ep. 14)
The Long Con (S2 ep. 13)
Fire + Water (S2 ep. 12)
The Hunting Party (S2 ep 11)
The 23rd Psalm (S2, ep. 10)
What Kate Did (S2, ep. 9)
Collision (S2, ep. 8)
The Other 48 Days (S2, ep. 7)