Tuesday afternoon, Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse tweeted “Tonight a new chapter in the season commences.” At the time, It just sort of seemed like hokey grandstanding to me. Not that Cuse has ever been any kind of disingenuous carnival barker, but it just seems like a pretty stock thing for a producer to say on the day of the show.
Well, that bold claim was delivered upon ten-fold as “Happily Ever After” proved to be a game-changing, time-spanning love epic in the grand tradition of Desmond-centric adventures “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and “The Constant”. It also staked its claim as the best episode of this final season, just barely edging “Ab Aeterno” in my book.
For weeks, you’ve all read about my lamenting of the corner the writers seemed to have painted themselves into regarding the flash-sideways narrative device. Basically, that it does them no good to show us these things happening in a parallel timeline without knowing anything about the reason that this timeline exists. While the answer still is not totally fleshed out (naturally), we got some pretty substantial clues as to what exactly is up. It’s somewhat serendipitous that this episode would air on the same day the NPR would pick up this piece from The Picture Show regarding parallel universes. It’s an interesting read, when you get a chance.
A commitment to excellence
Part of this was the bold choice to frame the hour entirely within the flash-sideways world. But the way we got there was a little outside the box. Desmond was whisked from the hospital back to the Island by Charles Widmore, and everyone’s favorite Scotsman was none too pleased, and with good reason. But, as we all suspected, Desmond was there to be something of a pin cushion for Widmore’s band of Island crashers. Desmond’s unnaturally high tolerance for electromagnetic events was of great interest to his father-in-law.
When Des turned the failsafe key, his consciousness flashed to an earlier part of his life with Penny before he came to the Island. This time around, he was zapped to the sideways universe, again with no knowledge of his Island existence or anything to do with that life. At least, not yet. At first, we appeared to be in for another cookie-cutter sideways arc in which we are forced to dissect the sideways universe’s subtle divergences from the established timeline. In this case, we saw that Desmond was no longer a hopelessly romantic down on his luck Scotsman, but a Ryan Bingham-esque successful business Scotsman in the employ of Widmore. After closing a deal and landing at LAX, he was quickly commissioned with the task of transporting Charlie (last seen nearly suffocating on the plane) to a charity event to play alongside a now fully-committed-to-music Daniel Faraday.
So, there you go, all of the traditional goofy sideways elements are in place. People are in different places, doing different things, but some things are the same. Yadda yadda yadda. Then, Desmond picked up Charlie and all geeky Hell broke loose.
“This doesn’t matter. None of this matters. All that matters is that we felt it.” – Charlie Pace
This portion of Desmond’s story matched him up with a number of people who seemed to have varying levels of knowledge about the existence of the alternate timeline. Charlie experienced a vision of a blonde woman, who we can almost certainly assume is Island Claire, welcoming him into a loving embrace and seemed perfectly fit to shuffle off the mortal coil, shedding some light on his “I was supposed to die” creedo from the premiere, in order to fully embrace this otherworldly existence.
Des got a taste of that medicine when Charlie drove them both headlong into the sea, conjuring up one of Lost’s all-time heart-wrenching images, Charlie’s watery farewell warning, “Not Penny’s Boat.” It didn’t stop there, a CAT scan at the hospital following the accident evoked several more images, this time focusing largely on Penny.
Next up was Desmond’s original time-traveling spirit guide from season 3, Eloise. Their conversation was infinitely more about what remained unsaid rather than what was spelled out for us. Again, like last time, Eloise seemed to know an awful lot about Des’ (and, inherently, the other castaways’) peculiar situation. She made great strides to deter Desmond’s attempts to meet up with this mysterious “Penny” from his visions. She referred to it as a “violation”.
Daniel Faraday (now fully embracing his Widmore roots and a weird Bob Dylan hat) resided somewhere between Charlie and Eloise on the knowledge scale. A fully-committed musician suddenly scrawling complex quantum mechanics, Faraday was a lot more helpful reuniting the lovebirds than his mom was. He even posited the notion of unleashing massive amounts of energy in order to avert disaster, but surmised correctly that he had already done so. It was a delight to see Jeremy Davies back, mostly because he is a fantastic actor who was made for this role, and because Faraday always seems to be the closest thing the show has to an answer man.
Variations on a theme
Desmond did meet up with Penny. At the very same stadium which saw them share a tearful goodbye before Des began training for Widmore’s sailing race that lampooned him on the Island in the first place. Des/Penny scenes have always forced the show’s best foot forward (See exhibits A, B and C) and the show ingeniously used this exact moment to yank us out of the sideways and back into the Island reality. It was here we were introduced to an oddly-serene and obedient Desmond, fully ready to participate in Widmore’s grand scheme. He even kept up the act when Dark Sayid showed up in all his tanktop-wearing, neck-snapping majesty, leading me to believe that Desmond has plans of his own, not in line with either party.
Sideways Desmond also had a plan. Though we were treated to a typical sideways whoosh,the whole blackout ordeal ingrained a certainty in him after shaking hands with Penny. I’m wondering if Desmond is now operating in both universes using his Island consciousness. The sly grin that spread across his lips when Minkowski agreed to procure the 815 manifest would suggest that he is about to hit all the castaways upside their displaced heads with some truth.
The season has been filled with a few crossover hints, such as Juliet’s ‘We should get coffee sometime” comment to Sawyer in the premiere, clearly building towards a sideways reunion. Sun’s momentary loss English-speaking ability led some to believe that the bump on her head caused a cognitive link with her sideways self (who also doesn’t speak English). Literally any scenario is in play for what Desmond will do next, and that’s not something I thought I would be able to say about this season 11 episodes in. For all the griping many fans have done about the season’s plodding, circular narrative, even the harshest critic would have to admit that the showrunners are, at the very least doing an exemplary job holding their cards until the last possible moment.
Well, I’m officially ready for the home stretch here. For whatever reason, this was the first episode that made me realize that this whole crazy odyssey is really going to end soon. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it yet, but I can’t wait to know what it is I’ll exactly have to deal with.