“Happily Ever After”
April 6th, 2010
Early in “Happily Ever After,” Charles Widmore tells Jin that it will be easier to show him what he intends to do with Desmond than it would be to tell him. Normally, this would make me quite excited, as I’m a strong supporter of the “Show, Don’t Tell” mode of storytelling when it comes to shows like Lost. However, if I have a single complaint about the show’s sixth season as a whole, it’s that the flash-sideways narrative device has remained frustratingly opaque – while there is value to mystery, and some of the season’s episodes have nicely played on our uncertainty, there is a point where the mystery needs to be solved in order for the show to move on.
Solution, however, is not the end goal of “Happily Ever After,” despite its title. Rather, it is an episode filled with multiple revelations and philosophical conversations which tell us something very important about what, precisely, is going on in this all-important half of the show’s narrative. It neither confirms nor discredits any of the running theories about what the flash-sideways are supposed to mean, but it establishes key parameters by which we may be able to figure things out, for good, in the future.
While some may feel that a lack of “answers” makes this yet another mysterious episode in a vague and unfocused season, I would argue that it’s the perfect “turn” of sorts: Desmond Hume’s journey into a new reality tells us enough to make us reconsider everything we’ve seen up to this point in the season but not so much that there aren’t still some mysteries to unlock in the future. While “why” and “how” remain complex questions that we still can’t entirely pin down, both questions have become more practical as we head towards the series’ conclusion, and I strongly believe that we now have all the tools we’ll need in order to connect the dots towards Lost’s “Happily Ever After” – so long as “love” is not the only answer, I’m pretty gosh darn excited about it.
First and foremost, let’s get it out of the way: I’m not entirely on board with “love” as the solution to this puzzle. The idea that people in the flash-sideways experience moments of clarity regarding what happened to them on the island in moments of “love at first sight” is something that makes a lot of sense – it gives reason to their decision to have Juliet die a second time at the start of the season, for starters, plus it’s not as if “love” hasn’t played an important role in the show up to this point. But like in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, I am wary about something as nebulous and emotional as “love” conquering or outranking every other complex philosophical and scientific idea at play. It was one thing when Penny was Desmond’s Constant, but that idea that everyone has a Constant which takes the form of an opposite sex partner seems like a stretch at first glance.
But “Love Can Cross Realities and Move Mountains” was not the only tidbit we received about the flash-sideways narrative. There are two particularly informative scenes in “Happily Ever After,” unsurprisingly communicated by two characters with integral ties to the history of the island and the hydrogen bomb which set this season’s events into motion. The first is Eloise Hawking (now Eloise Widmore) pulling Desmond aside during a charity function and telling him to stop what he’s doing, and the second is Daniel Faraday (now Dan Widmore) pulling Desmond aside to tell him to keep doing what he’s doing. Both are incredibly important to unlocking both the “why” and the “how” of the flash-sideways timeline, but the two characters are either unwilling (in the case of Eloise) and unable (in the case of Faraday) to fill in Desmond on all the details, which leaves us to piece together some more pieces.
Faraday’s conversation with Desmond is, arguably, the most straightforward: it is unsurprisingly meaningful that Faraday wakes up in the middle of the night and writes down the formula by which he believed (before his death on the island) that Jughead would reset the timelines despite having followed his calling as a musician within the flash-sideways timeline. This confirms, we presume, that the flash-sideways timeline is the direct result of that explosion, although the “how” remains caught up in quantum mechanics. Faraday confirms, though, that love is the key: it was his first glimpse of Charlotte, and Charlie’s first glimpse of Claire, that showed them things which revealed that there was something more going on, that there was something about this reality that wasn’t “meant to be.” Like I said above, I’m wary of the idea of love being used too liberally, but it can’t be denied that it has begun to unlock key bits of information slowly but surely, and it will likely continue to do so in the future (when we get Sawyer’s discovery of Juliet, for example).
But in terms of really understanding what the Flash Sideways mean as opposed to how or “why” they happened, Eloise offers the most insightful advice. She very clearly knows what is going on, consciously trying to drive Desmond away from discovering Penny with the argument that Desmond “isn’t ready yet.” It isn’t entirely clear what that means, but I was more interested in what she said before: she told Desmond that he should be perfectly happy because he has what he always wanted most of all, Charles Widmore’s approval. That right there is the key to all of this, in my eyes: that Desmond’s single life working as a Fixer for Widmore gave him the very thing he was trying to achieve when he decided to enter Widmore’s sailing race in order to prove he was good enough for Penny indicates that the Flash Sideways really are some sort of bargain. Desmond earned the approval that the race, which ended up placing him on the island, was supposed to offer, but in the process he lost the reason he so desired his approval.
And so, immediately, we look back to see what the other characters may have lost or gained in their own stories: does the happy photo of Locke and his father together indicate that his father’s approval was his bargain? Was Hurley’s luck reversed? It makes sense for Sayid, at the very least: the Man in Black offered Sayid a chance to be with Nadia again, but the flash-sideways had Nadia alive and well but in the arms of his brother, which could have perhaps been his own bargain. But, it also raises all sorts of logistical questions about what exactly is happening: Has the flash-sideways reality always existed, or was it created by Jughead? Does it affect only those who were in 1970s when the bomb was set off?
The show doesn’t have the answers to these questions, but we’re starting to see how we can get the answers. We had to presume that Widmore was planning to use Desmond for his special ability to survive intense electromagnetic disturbances, so we knew that the lackey was going to get fried, and we knew that Desmond would be able to survive (and could pretty much surmise his eventual destination). But there was still this great hope that Desmond holds the key, that he is the one who can solve this elaborate riddle the show has chosen to play. And there are plenty of things to pore over in this episode, like how Desmond seems to be the one person able to achieve a sort of co-consciousness between the two worlds, or how there was no “flash-sideways sound effect” when Desmond popped from meeting Penny to lying inside the super-charged Hydra Station MRI, or how there WAS a “flash-sideways sound effect” as Desmond willingly went with Sayid after moments earlier being entirely willing to go along with Widmore’s plan. We don’t entirely understand what all of those differences mean, but what we do know is that those answers will unlock things bigger than whether or not Kate still killed her father or other small similarities. The two worlds have finally met, and things can finally start falling into place.
While I might be against the idea of “love” being so powerful in this instance, the focus on emotions over any sort of scientific solutions is certainly desirable when it comes to Desmond’s new role as the flash-sideways equivalent of Jeremy Bentham. While Desmond receives information that will allow him to unlock the flash-sideways timeline’s secrets, his goal is not to restore an original timeline or to “fix” anything in particular. Rather, he tells George (Fisher Stevens) that he “needs to show them something,” speaking of the other passengers of Oceanic Flight 815. He wants to find them to get them to feel what he got to feel when he was in that MRI, what he got to feel when he was under the water rescuing Charlie from drowning. Charlie tells Desmond that now that they have felt something, this life means nothing: whatever sense of purpose or meaning they thought they had in the flash sideways is nothing compared to the love that Charlie felt for Claire, or the happiness that comes with Penny and young Charlie for Desmond. There is something missing in their lives that they don’t know they’re missing, and Desmond’s mission is to do what Charlie did for him (although hopefully with less ocean-based motor vehicle mishaps) for everyone else.
I don’t want the show’s characters to be “solving” the flash-sideways structure themselves: it would seem too meta, or too mechanical, to really have an impact. Instead, the show is very much leaving it up to us to decipher what it all means, Desmond having become an important conduit through which future revelations and future connections can be built. Cuse referred to the episode as the start of a new “chapter” for Lost on Twitter, and I think that’s a good way of looking at it. It will force us to reconsider what’s happened in the flash-sideways reality so far, and it will prepare us for things to start becoming even more clear in the future. While there isn’t a single question that it answers, there also isn’t a single question that it stops us from asking, which is where the show wants us to be at this stage: rather than knocking off easy answers to pave the way for the conclusion, the episode gives us a series of tools and ideas which help us unlock the meaning of what we’ve seen thus far and will continue to be instrumental in how the show reveals things in the future.
As per usual, Henry Ian Cusick is pretty fantastic at selling Desmond in a state of confusion: we saw it in “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” we saw it in “The Constant,” and we certainly witnessed it here. His relationship with Penny remains the romantic cornerstone of the series, so seeing Sonya Walger back (and running a tour de stade, no less) was certainly good to see. And yet, at the same time, we wonder if this might be the only way we ever get to see it: as Desmond works towards uniting the two realities through love, Widmore implies that he will have to make a sacrifice in order to complete the job in question. Since Sayid kidnaps Desmond (sort of), we never get to see just what Zoey and Widmore had planned for him, but the idea of Desmond sacrificing himself for Penny and Charlie already has me in manly, manly tears. This was also one of the most cameo-heavy episodes of the season, and I thought Dominic Monaghan, Jeremy Davies, Fionnula Flanagan, and Walger all transitioned into their roles very nicely, and this was a strong showcase for Alan Dale as well. Combine with Jack Bender’s great direction (I particularly liked the angle for Desmond’s MRI mask getting put on), and you have an extremely enjoyable episode.
However, the script from Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse is ultimately just like the rest of the season: there are still secrets that are yet to be unlocked, and still meaning that have yet to become clear. Personally, I’m fine with this considering just how much the episode did tell us, and how many immediate connections I was able to make when watching the episode a second time. “Happily Ever After” is sort of like Season Six’s Rosetta Stone: it has the potential to unlock everything we wanted to know, but there are still hieroglyphics that we have yet to discover, or which remain shrouded in mystery, or which Lindelof and Cuse have been hiding from us until they found it most convenient.
As a result, I expect fans will spend most of the next week trying to re-read all of the previous episodes of the season in the context of what we now know, and then extending that back to some previous events on the island which have to this point been unexplainable. And then next week, they can use this information to try to figure out that next flash-sideways, or the next plan from Widmore or the Man in Black, or anything else that comes up. Engaging on its own and filled to the brim with potential, “Happily Ever After” may well be one of the most important episodes that Lost has ever produced, although only time will tell if it was the beginning of something spectacular (or, if my cynicism wins out, the start of a “love conquers all” conclusion that makes me want to gouge my eyes out).
- In terms of previous unexplained events that could now make more sense, let’s talk about Anthony Cooper showing up on the island in “The Man from Tallahassee.” The “Magic Box” metaphor was just that, a metaphor, and we sort of presumed that Cooper showed up on a ship or fall from the sky or something similar. What’s intriguing, to me at least, is how Cooper arriving on the island was precisely what Sawyer most wanted – the Magic Box, in that sense, served the same function as the flash-sideways, albeit in a different form.
- It was very purposeful that Eloise would spout “Whatever happened, happened” to Desmond when she’s suggesting that DriveShaft being unable to attend the event.
- The episode had a lot of fun playing around with uncertainty surrounding who Widmore’s wife and son were, but the answers were pretty obvious even if you didn’t see the guest starring credits.
- Interesting that Jack, already, is starting to piece together the series of coincidences which led three of the people on the plane to same place: just as Jack on the island seems open to the idea of something bigger happening that he doesn’t understand, it seems like flash-Jack may be in the same position.
- So do we think Desmond doesn’t react to Sayid’s kidnapping attempt because he knows what is going to happen (perhaps seeing, before we returned to the island, what was about to take place), or is his brain really so fried that he doesn’t react to Sayid’s violence in any sort of fashion? The episode remains really vague on the details, and with Desmond anything is possible.
- Nice to see Fisher Stevens return – it always seemed like he was sort of wasted in such a bit part, so getting a bit more of him as Desmond’s driver (a position that Abbadon filled during Locke’s Bentham period) is enjoyable.
- “You All Everybody” remains way too catchy.
- So Penny’s mother was named Milton? I presume this is just another Paradise Lost reference, as there’s no one we’ve met by that name.
- True story: the fried Widmore lackey at the start of the episode was totally wearing the same shirt that I was wearing yesterday, and that Baze was wearing on Life Unexpected last night. Clearly, this is the most important reveal in the episode.