Assessing the Contenders: Lost – “The Constant”

Lost (ABC)

Episode: “The Constant”

During its resurgence in creative vision during the latter portion of its third season, Lost had a number of highpoints. “Flashes Before Your Eyes” was a complex journey into the series’ murky but fascinating science, “Greatest Hits” was a character piece capable of completely changing the audience’s view of Charlie, and “Through the Looking Glass” used the show’s own conventions against itself for one of the most effective season cliffhangers in a long time.

And yet I think “The Constant,” the fifth episode of Lost’s fourth season, is better than all of them.

Now, I don’t make this statement in spite of those other episodes, but rather out of appreciation: “The Constant” borrows all of their various elements but manages to weave them into a single, cohesive hour of television. It is an episode that, although capable of standing on its own outside the context of the series, also represents the various parts which define the series’ high quality. It is what everything was building towards, the kind of episode that a show can only earn with hard work and practice.

And the final product of all of that work is Lost’s Emmy Submission this year, and it might well be the deciding factor in getting the show it’s second nomination or win in the category.

I never got to review “The Constant” when it aired – Lost’s return sadly coincided with a period in which I was working diligently on my thesis, and as a result was watching more than writing when it comes to television. However, I remember watching the episode for the first time and knowing that I was watching something special.

In terms of being an episode of the series, it’s a fascinating combination of the above cited themes and ideas. If “Flashes Before Your Eyes” was too much theory for its own good, a point I’ve seen argued with varying success, then this was the better use of those ideas. Rather than feeling like anything close to an information dump, here Desmond’s flashes were integral story points and were allowed to fully drive the episode’s momentum. Yes, they contained confusing pieces of science fiction in terms of Faraday’s time travel discussions (Which I’ll get into below), but it feels like a result of its setting versus the purpose of it.

YouTube: Desmond meets Faraday

And unlike “Flashes,” where Desmond was mostly playing around with his flashes, these ones had that dramatic momentum.  Like “Greatest Hits,” which framed Charlie’s flashbacks in a way that made them feel far more important than the admittedly quite bad ones in Season Two, it was about creating a story that would serve both the character and the nature of their flash structures. It creates a journey for a character in a single episode, and Henry Ian Cusick was more than up to the challenge in this example.

That journey is one of my favourite in the show’s history, the stunning and fantastic emotional journey of Desmond and Penny. It’s hard to imagine, when we first met this character in the Season Two premiere, that he would be the emotional centerpiece of the entire series. The relationship between this lost soul and the woman desperately searching for him is pure romance, long lost loves who share a connection. The episode is a journey into their relationship, and the dramatic weight of the idea of her being his constant, the thing that grounds him in reality and saves him in a time of need, is a perfect stepping stone for these characters. When the end of episode phone call takes place, it is amongst the show’s most emotional moment.

YouTube: The Phone Call

And he really is the entire episode: more than any other example, this episode is hinged on Desmond’s journeys into the past. They are the plot, the setting, the character development, and everything else you could imagine. The flashforwards had already revitalized this construct, but “The Constant” set a new bar. Here, they are literally holding one of our characters hostage, in danger of losing his life to the same fate as the boat’s radio operator – that kind of integration is something the show improved upon in the fourth season, particularly in the episode in question.

YouTube: Past and Present in “The Constant”

That Cusick didn’t make the Top 11 candidates in Supporting Actor is a real shame – he’s in almost 90% of this episode, and every single scene is knocked right out of the park. You buy everything about this character, from his insomniac concern over his surroundings to that amazing final phone call. Cusick is one of those cast additions that was just pitch perfect from beginning to end, and it’s a real pity that voters never got a chance to see his amazing work in this episode.

But some of them will – as mentioned, Lost’s producers submitted “The Constant” as its episode for the Best Drama Series race. While there is some argument whether it is the season’s best episode (Some argue, perhaps rightfully, that “The Shape of Things to Come” is the stronger episode of the series overall), I truly believe that this is the best possible submission that the show has ever had.

Now, some disagree with this: the episode features a rather complex theory of time travel, grounding itself in science fiction more than most episodes of the show, so some think that voters would be “confused.”

First and foremost, I would argue that the emotional core of the episode is stronger than its scientific background, and would win out in voters’ minds at the end of the day. However, at the same time, I also think that confusion is actually the point of the episode: whereas past submissions have been more dependent on knowledge of the show, here our protagonist literally knows nothing about anything. Our window into the episode is in the same position as those poor panelists who aren’t watching the series to begin with. In other words, the episode has a built-in framework for new viewers.

And we need to give Lindelof and Cuse some credit here: although not simple by any means, I thought their definition of time travel (Here being “Stuck” in time) was fantastic, and really worked in the episode. Unlike the show’s previous examples of this, this was practically shown and given real ramifications, rather than a mystical old woman waxing poetic about it. Voters see the theory work before their very eyes, something that should help ease any of those concerns.

But this isn’t an episode about time travel, but an episode about an epic love story and a character’s highly personal journey. It isn’t an episode that furthers the season’s overall plot, but rather an episode that displays the series’ ability to create a compelling story that adds to the overall mythology without relying on it. With amazing work on technical aspects from Director Jack Bender and composer Michael Giacchino, “The Constant” looks and sounds like one of the best episodes of television all year.

And they don’t lie: with any justice, it’ll also be the episode that gets Lost back into Emmy’s biggest category.

Cultural Observations

  • I also have to acknowledge a great performance from Jeremy Davies, whose work as Faraday was pretty much fantastic all season. He never got a real showcase episode, robbed by the strike-shortened season, but this is a character I can’t wait to see more from in the future.
  • Next up for Drama Series is Mad Men, which is finally a submission that I’ve review on the blog before and can thus get up fairly quick. I’ll be doing Comedy tomorrow.
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3 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards

3 responses to “Assessing the Contenders: Lost – “The Constant”

  1. This is my favorite Lost episode of all time. Not only is it full of science fiction but it has Desom (my favorite chcaracter), Daniel (My second favorite) and a Penny and Desmond reunion (of sorts). The Penny-Desmond storyline is the best story in all of Lost and I actually teared up while watching that phone scene.
    I was sure that Desmond and Penny wouldn’t be reunited until the series finale, I was wrong, but that in itself made me happy.
    My fingers are crossed that it will be nominated and if the voters are smart, that it will win.

  2. Pingback: The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Lost - “The Constant” « Cultural Learnings

  3. Pingback: The Lost Weekend: Reflections on Reviewing Lost « Cultural Learnings

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