Happily Ever After (S6, Ep. 11)
Charlie: “Have you ever been in love?”
Desmond: “Thousands of times.”
Charlie: “That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about spectacular, consciousness-altering love. Do you know what that looks like?”
“I understand by that—quite independently of all dogma, of all Credo, of every Church organization, of every Holy Book, of all hope in a personal survival, etc.—the simple and direct fact of the sensation of the “eternal” which may very well not be eternal, but simply without perceptible limits, and in that way Oceanic…In this sense I can say that I am profoundly “religious”— without this constant state (like an underground bed of water which I feel surfacing under the bark) in any way harming my critical faculties and my freedom to exercise them—even if against the immediacy of this internal experience. Thus I carry on simultaneously, freely and smoothly, a “religious” life (in the sense of this prolonged sensation) and a life of critical reason (which is without illusion). . . .the sensation that I feel is thrust upon me as a fact. It is a contact. – Romain Rolland, Letter to Sigmund Freud, December 5, 1927
Becoming “conscious” has been a running theme of Lost from the beginning and it’s the major underlining theme of Happily Ever After, an episode that affirms the show’s call to awakening, to the search for “good being,” to the struggle toward convergence and Oceanic reunion in at least two senses of the term. I talked at length about community, communication and communion on an interpersonal level in last week’s column for The Package. This week those themes go “cosmic,” in both the spiritual and the scientific sense.
This week, some things are seemingly disproven (bye-bye, Second Snake Theory!…?) while others are seemingly clarified (Hello “Love Snake” Theory!). The entire episode feels overstuffed with detail, potential portent, and maybe-significant minutia. Writing these columns seems to get harder and more time consuming each week, either because I’m feeling compelled to pack more in as we near the end (likely) or because the show itself is packing more in as we approach our final destination (even more likely). But before we dive into Happily Ever After and its mélange of science and faith, philosophy and psychology and mysticism, let’s tackle one thing straight off the bat:
I’m an unabashed romantic – the kind of guy who thinks The Fountain is a profound meditation on grief and death, not a just a weird indie flick with a tree in a space-bubble and Hugh Jackman doing Tai Chi in Space-Silhouette (although it is that too). I loved The Constant, got a little verklempt when Juliet bit it, and am generally a big fat target upon which Lost can rain down its shameless sincerity. Happily Ever After was no exception. I know that some of you aren’t big Desmond fans, so all of the above probably falls on deaf ears (or, I guess, blind eyes, given that you’re reading this). But I’ll be honest: I loved this episode. I enjoy the questing confusion of all the Desmond-centric outings, and I enjoy the big, unselfconscious emotionalism of his relationship with Penny and her f***ed up family. I respond to it, because it’s extremely well-handled, commendably written, acted and directed. There’s a fine line between emotional and schmaltzy, and Happily Ever After firmly walks the on the correct side of that line.
• Sayonara, Second Snake! My season-long theory on the “meaning” of the off-Island flashes appears to have been fatally shot in the groceries. I’m not disappointed to see it seemingly obliterated – in fact, I’m excited by the fact that I appear to have been wrong. It’s sort of amazing to me that we’ve reached this point in the final season without any real clarity about what’s going on. Some kind commenters on Back to the Island have suggested that the theory may still come into play (check the comments), but I’m at a point where I’m sort of burnt out on “trying to figure out where this is going.” I’d rather enjoy where we are, and spend this column talking about that – because “where we are” is damned fascinating. But in the interest of summing things up:
Happily Ever After suggests that what we’re seeing off-Island isn’t a cleverly-hidden denouement for the show, but instead an actual separate reality of some kind. Is it a parallel universe? A parallel timeline? A “split” universe/timeline? One of many Quantum Worlds? A “false” world created by the Man in Black’s successful escape from the Island? Is it, as one of Chud’s commenters creatively intuited, a “false” world designed to entrap the Man in Black within – a kind of newer, larger Pandora’s Island, no less a prison for it?
Hell if I know.
What I do know is this: My other wacky theory, proposed during the Rewatch, seems like it may have some unexpected new teeth. I’ll get into this a little further down. But first…
• Desmond must attack Widmore with an IV stand. Which is exactly what he should do in this situation. I mean, Widmore’s responsible – directly or indirectly – for pretty much every terrible thing that’s happened to Desmond since our favorite Scot decided (on his own, without any apparent nudging from Jacob) to set sail on the Elizabeth, Libby’s husband’s boat.
Widmore: “I can’t take you back. The Island isn’t done with you yet.”
• People like Widmore, Ben and Locke have been referring to what the Island “wants” and/or “needs” throughout the run of this show. Is the Island itself sentient in some way? Is it, as I’d previously theorized, similar to the planet Solaris of Stanislaw Lem’s novel of the same name? Or are these references to the Island the equivalent of invoking the will of “God”? How does Widmore presume to know the Island’s will, and what does that presumption indicate about him? Is he a “corrupt priest” in the same way that Ben was? Is he justifying self-interest by invoking divine guidance? It’s entirely unclear, but it’s going to become clear, and I’m going to enjoy the resonance either way, because the metaphor of Other-as-priest/congregation is so strong and enjoyable to me.
Zoe: “Charles, that test isn’t scheduled until tomorrow.”
Widmore: “I know when it’s scheduled. Get them ready now.”
• With those words, Science comes rocketing back into the narrative. Welcome back, science (albeit science of the kooky, theoretical kind)! We missed you.
• I assume that Widmore bumps the timeframe up because of Anti-Locke’s visit to Hydra Island.
• I love the weird pale box that houses Widmore’s EM equipment. One of Chud’s commenters remarked that he was expecting a Velociraptor to pop out of it, which was exactly what I thought when I saw it. And speaking of Velociraptors – did you know that there’s one stalking Michael Buble?
Widmore’s boot-licking lackey: “You don’t have any metal on you do you? Keys? Change?”
Widmore: “Of course he doesn’t, you idiot. I hate to resort to forcing this upon you, Desmond. But once it’s over I’m going to ask you to make a sacrifice. And I hope for all our sakes you’ll help me.”
Desmond: “Sacrifice? What the bloody Hell do you know about sacrifice?”
Widmore: “My son died here. For the sake of this island. Your wife – my own daughter – hates me. And I’ve never even met my grandson. But if you won’t help me, Desmond, all of it will be for nothing. Penny, your son, and everyone else, will be gone forever.”
“Never do I hesitate to look squarely at the unexpected face that every passing hour unveils to us, and to sacrifice the false images of it formed in advance, however dear they may be. In me, the love of life in general predominates over love of my own life (that, indeed, would never have sufficed to bear me up). May life herself speak! However inadequate I may be in listening to her, and in repeating her words, I shall try to record them, even if they contradict my most secret desires. In all that I write, may her will, not mine, be done!” – Romain Rolland
• Sacrifice; that’s another word deeply associated with this show. Dogen and Juliet sacrificed their happiness for the health of a loved one. Locke needed to sacrifice his father to ascend to leader of the Others. Boone “was the sacrifice that the Island demanded.” When Locke questioned Christian about dying, he was told “that’s why they call it a sacrifice.”
In other words, the show is littered in sacrifice, and that’s clearly intentional. In Happily Ever After, it appears as though there are multiple potential sacrifices at play, at odds with each other. I’ll get into these throughout the column. Two things to note here: Desmond’s sacrifice will likely be one that involves choosing “The Greater Good” (to use one of Lost’s own episode titles), and will serve to reaffirm life in the face of death (remember that the symbol Jacob used to deliver the candidate names was an ankh – the Egyptian symbol for life) in the same way that Romain Rolland describes so poetically above, but on what appears to be a “cosmic” scale. Like Dogen and Juliet, I suspect that Desmond will choose to sacrifice his own happiness in one “reality” in order to ensure the greater happiness of all – and he’ll do this because he’s now realized that if he should die another “version” of him is guaranteed to end up with the woman he loves, because he’s experienced it. He’ll choose Life with a capital-L over his own life.
• Also worth noting: This is twice that Widmore refers to life as the castaways know it “ceasing to be” or, as here, “gone forever.” It feels more and more likely that the Man in Black’s successful escape will erase at least one timeline – and perhaps all of them.
Widmore: “That man is the only person I’m aware of, in the world, who has survived a catastrophic electromagnetic event, I need to know that he can do it again, or we all die.”
• How does Widmore know that Desmond’s survived a catastrophic electromagnetic event? Based on the evidence of his consciousness jumps? Through Daniel?
• And just why is it that Widmore needs Desmond to survive such an event? Is he planning to ask Desmond to enter one of the energy pockets on the Island? That makes sense, given his interest in those pockets.
• I loved Desmond’s “Dr. Manhattan Island” scene (if you’ve seen/read Watchmen, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Widmore willingly sacrifices Desmond without any apparent hesitation, having no apparent qualms about killing his son-in-law. Again, assuming that Widmore is not simply self-interested, this underlines the notion of individual sacrifice for the greater good.
• With all this talk about, and all of these references to, consciousness, suddenly the name of Oceanic Airlines makes total, incredibly-cool sense. This realization hit me like a Dharma-brick in the face as my wife and I watched the episode on Tuesday, and got me very excited because it promises religious, scientific and philosophical explanations (depending on your chosen POV) for what happens to Desmond’s consciousness in this episode (and potentially in his past “flashes” as well). Have you heard the term “Oceanic feeling”? It’s been discussed in relation to this show before, and I was so struck by my epiphany that I did something I never do – I read Jeff Jensen’s Wednesday recap column last night after I’d finished putting this together, scanning it for references to “Oceanic feeling.” Sure enough, Jensen touches on it (which is always, selfishly, a little disappointing – it’s fun to think you’ve stumbled on something that the authors you enjoy may not have discussed), but that’s no reason not to talk about it – especially when it seems so obviously and incredibly important to the themes of consciousness running throughout this season and this episode, and ESPECIALLY because, while the estimable Mr. Jensen has name-checked the concept, he’s arguably skipped over the meat in favor of a quick mention.
• So let’s talk about this, because Romain Rolland’s concept (the term did not originate with Freud, although Freud “popularized” it in his book, Civilization and its Discontents) suddenly seems like a/the lynchpin of the season.
“Oceanic feeling” refers to a mental state in which an individual’s consciousness expands and appears to connect with something vast and profound, experiencing a feeling that has often been associated with religion and spirituality, but which Sigmund Freud (Psychologist, Cigar-enthusiast, and time-traveling companion of Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan) felt was more accurately associated with infancy (big surprise there). Freud was openly skeptical and unconvinced that this Oceanic feeling could conclusively be considered the “source of religious needs.” Despite his skepticism toward the idea however, he had tremendous respect for the man who coined the term and who originally conveyed the idea to him in a letter – Romain Rolland, French philosopher, artist and “mystic.”
It seems to me on the basis of tonight’s episode that Lost is less interested in the details of Freud’s skepticism, and much more interested in Rolland’s claim of the experience as a fact. It’s the experience of Oceanic feeling that Desmond seems to connect with on a cosmic level throughout the episode – a communication and communion (see? These themes keep resurfacing) with a plane of reality that changes Desmond profoundly and renders him willing (but willing to do what exactly?).
What I like about the notion of Oceanic feeling as Rolland describes it in general, and especially as it applies to Lost, is that while the feeling can have religious/mystical connotations, Rolland himself observes that he is conscious of the separation between that feeling of universality and rational thought. The concept, as offered by Freud’s pen pal, presents a “spiritual” experience that can exist alongside science – and in Lost’s fictional universe, may ultimately be (at least partially) explainable through science – namely, the idea of Quantum Worlds or, at the least, of “split” timelines. The Oceanic feeling as experienced by Desmond also highlights another of Lost’s major thematic preoccuptations: “good being,” in which a person confronts himself (in a manner reminiscent of the confrontation between the self and the “Other” as described by folks like Sartre) and, by discovering who he is not, is free to discover who he really is. If you’ve been reading along with these columns, I hope the above concepts make sense (or are starting to make sense) to you. If not, may I recommend you read the Rewatch Column for One of Them, as well as the Too Much Information column on “Good Being”?
The implications of this on a thematic/metaphorical level are enormous. Recall again Salman Rushdie’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” which talked about the Sea as a place where all creativity and possibility are born, and which described that sea as a tapestry with interwoven threads of story (like timelines/universe). Recall that the Island is surrounded by an ocean, and that the ocean is the symbol for Rolland’s notion of the Oceanic feeling. Does the Island then function as a “cork” in the world’s consciousness? Is the sea that surrounds the Island metaphorically meant to represent the “sea” of humanity, the ocean of global consciousness? Remember that Solaris, which I’ve theorized in past might share similarities with the Island, was a vast “conscious” ocean.
• What is it that dissolves the boundary between the self and the other (or “Other”) allowing humanity to reach a state of Oceanic feeling, according to the correspondence of Freud and Rolland, and according to many of the world’s religions (including, notably, Buddhism – the Dharma Initiative’s major “spiritual” inspiration)? What emotional state allows us to pull a Jim Morrison and Break on through to the Other(s) side, achieving a unity (a convergence, if you will) with your self and the Ocean of human consciousness, as well as a kind of intensively personal “reflective” experience? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count. More on this just a little further down.
• Once again, Hurley sends another character off in the right direction with a casual manner that belies a quiet confidence. Are these “helpful Hurley” incidents indicative of a Jacob-esque purpose in the off-Island universe? And can we really get to the end of this show without having to watch Hurley die? I sure hope so.
Desmond: “Bet it’s a boy.”
• Actually, Des, you know it’s a boy. You just don’t know that you know. At least, that’s my theory. Much more on this below.
• George Minkowski returns to the show as a Limo Driver (quite a change in careers for the man, or so it seems) responsible for getting Desmond where he needs to go. It’s nice to see Fischer Stevens back on the show (I regret that the writers strike cut the freighter storyline short), but I don’t have much to say about him – with one exception. I’ll talk about this at the end of the column.
• I’m sure you all noticed the painting of a scale in Widmore’s office – the black and white stones equally balanced. What’s it mean, if anything? Impossible to tell at this point, but remember that in Egyptian myth the scale was used to weight the worth of the human heart against the purity of a feather. Does a world in balance suggest a world in peace? Are the two “universes” we’ve watched this season symbolized by these stones? Are they themselves beginning to come unbalanced? Are we watching a kind of Dark Tower riff, in which threats to the Island result in a “weakening” of reality, threatening existence itself?
• Desmond finally gets a taste of a 60 year-old MacCutcheon’s. Great. Now I’m craving some good liquor that costs more than I make in a month.
• I’m sure all of you noticed the model of a sailboat in Widmore’s office. I’d write more about this, but what is there to say? Hey, look! Sailboat!
Widmore: “…My wife is putting together one of her charity events and uh, the boy had a crazy idea to combine classical music with modern rock. You heard of a band called Driveshaft?”
• The combination of classical music with modern rock isn’t exactly innovative – check out Silverchair’s most excellent song, “Across the Night,” for a terrific example of how this fusion can really work.
Aside from that quibble, it seems to me that this “fusion” concept hints significantly at a similar fusing of consciousnesses and of realities – something I began discussing in Season 4 of the Rewatch, and especially during the episode “The Variable” (another Desmond-centric installment). I’ll talk more about this a little further down as well.
MORE HAPPILY EVER AFTER AFTER THE PAGE BREAK!