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Lost: "The Constant"

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-"What do you expect to find when you get there?"


That was the opening exchange of "The Constant," a delightfully mindbending Lost episode that was as explanatory as this show has ever been, while still retaining ample amounts of mystery and surprise.

Here's what we now know:

Fact #1: The freighter exists, it's in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Fiji and our island, and while some time anomalies exist in the journey off the island, it is still 2004 out there.

Fact #2: Desmond's precognitive abilities are related to his exposure to a burst of electromagnetism, combined with the special properties of the island. He's not "seeing the future," he's apparently sharing consciousness with his own future self. On tonight's episode though, present-Desmond shares consciousness with past-Desmond, and the trick doesn't go so well. He starts freaking out, and can't remember anything about his life after 1996, when he was in the military.

Fact #3: The man who knows all about this strange form of time travel is our own Daniel Faraday, who calls present-Desmond and tells him that the next time he jumps back to '96, he needs to travel to Oxford and meet past-Daniel, who will explain the concept of "the constant:" the object (or person) that allows people to share consciousness with their other selves without losing their minds. Desmond's "constant" is the love of his life, Penelope Widmore, whom he finds in '96 and calls on the phone in '04, establishing a continuity.

Bonus fact: As if all the above weren't enough info to take away, tonight's episode tossed in a scene from '96 where Penny's father, Charles Widmore, buys a ledger that's the last surviving artifact of The Black Rock, the ship that was lost at sea centuries ago and ended up on our island. The ledger, and a painting of The Black Rock, were being auctioned by one Tobard Hanso. So now we're getting off-island info that reinforces–or at least addresses–a lot of what we already know, instead of bringing in new people, objects, et cetera. All a sign that we're moving towards a goal, not making last-second player-substitutions.

The only problem with "The Constant" isn't really a problem with the episode itself but with what it means for future episodes. Namely this: With Daniel starting to come clean to Jack and Juliet on the beach about the island's time-bending nature–and his own prior knowledge of it–coupled with Sayid's freighter experiences, if none of these people spend next episode grilling everyone around them about what the hell is going on, then the collective Lost fandom is going to groan so loud that it'll drown out any dissonant horn-blare.

Still, it's hard to complain about "The Constant" itself, which introduced the menacing crew of the freighter–and their own time-traveling, nose-bleeding communications officer, Fisher Stevens–while playing with the flashback structure in such a way that even I got happily disoriented after a while.

Most importantly though, I loved this episode because it brought back the emotional underpinnings that make all this fantastical hoo-hah work. In the end, Desmond's jumps through time are related to his dear Penny, and his desperation to see her again. Did anybody else get choked up by his phone call to Penny at the end, eight years after he promised he'd use her number? It gave new meaning to the phrase, "I've always loved you."

Grade: A

Stray observations:

-I think all the Desmond episodes have been among my favorite on Lost so far. The character is so compelling, and he's had the wildest adventures of anyone. (Jack: mopes around hospital; Locke: screwed over by father; Desmond: sails around the world, gets stuck on a mysterious island, becomes a reluctant part of a global experiment, then learns how to travel through time. The winner!) But the storytelling in his episodes are also very innovative. Tonight's had sort of a Dennis Potter/Alan Moore vibe, with all the matching jump cuts between past and present. I chuckled with glee nearly every time Desmond came "unstuck."

-All this flashback/flashforward stuff that Lost has been doing all along…it's a kind of time travel, isn't it? I don't mean literally–at least I don't think so–but thematically, the show is reinforcing one of its central premises through its structure. Very clever stuff.

Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:

-Something I missed last week, but which the Lost community has dutifully noted, is that the child Kate cradles at the close of "Eggtown" isn't listed in the credits as "Aaron" but as "two-year-old boy." Make of that what you will.

-Faraday sends his mouse Eloise an hour into the future, where she'll learn how to run a maze he's just constructed. I don't think that's just a throwaway bit of business. I'm wondering if Desmond's time-traveling is designed to teach him how to "run a maze." This is probably why on the island, Desmond was able to see the future without bleeding through the nose and freaking out. His future self knows what he's doing; it's his past self that needed to be brought up to speed.

-Getting off the island required flying directly through storm clouds. But they didn't come out of the clouds in the Arctic Circle, so that's one theory shot.

-So how much do we think the crew of the freighter knows about what's going on? They're just hired hands, yes? Although they do seem very concerned about Frank bringing Sayid and Desmond aboard. All except one unseen freightie, who opens the door to sick bay so they can escape. "Looks like you guys have a friend on this boat," says the soon-to-be-dead Fisher Stevens. Or maybe it's not their friend, but Ben's.

-Fisher Stevens can't be a one-off, can he? You don't hire a name actor and then give him an aneurysm after one episode, so that he's gone for good? Do you?

-Remember Ben's "magic box," and how he used it to bring Locke's dad to the island? I'm guessing–and this is no earth-shattering realization, I'll grant–that Ben has figured out how to exploit the island's time-traveling properties, and that he had "the man from Tallahassee" plucked from the timeline. But if so, then Ben's method of travel must be far different from Desmond's, because Ben can actually get things.

-In recent interviews, Lindelof and Cuse have indicated that they've been playing far straighter with the details of what's been happening to our castaways than the fans want to believe. Just as they've said all along that this is not "all a dream" nor are the islanders "all dead and living in the afterlife," so any talk about alternate realities and alternate timelines appears to be way off-base. The answers must be far simpler: There's this island, with strange properties, that some people know about it, and that those who do know about are willing to fight for. The only real mysteries are: "Why this island?" and "Why these people?" That's what we're coming to, it would seem.

Flashbackin'…Season One, Eps. 3-8:

-As I mentioned last week, I'm working back through the Lost box sets, looking to see whether this show really works as one long, fluid story, or if all the blind alleys, dead characters and superfluous flashbacks are too much of a drag. Well, I watched six more of the early episodes, and although those first Losts are much more character-oriented than plot- or mystery-oriented, everything essential about the show is pretty much in line. (In fact, it's remarkable how well the show handled the often-jarring transition from pilot to second episode.) From the start, people are talking about "fresh starts" and "hope" and "faith," and in a scene that's starting to seem like the cornerstone of the series, a priest tells Charlie that "life is nothing but a series of choices."

-The first hard choice the Lostaways had to make: killing Kate's captor, rather than watching him slowly die (and consume all their resources in the process). Sawyer shoots him, but the lawman won't kick, so Jack has to finish the job. As Sawyer says to Kate a few episodes later, regarding him and Jack: "The difference between us ain't that big, sweetheart."

-More on Jack vs. Sawyer, in a scene where both of the root through the airplane for supplies, Jack asks Sawyer what he's found. "Booze, smokes, a couple of Playboys," he smirks. "And you?" When Jack says, "Medicine," Sawyer replies, "Well that about sums it up."

-Remember when episodes used to end with a song from Hurley's CD player, before the batteries ran out?

-Other mostly forgotten Lost elements: the plethora of other castaways who populate the beach, many of whom were referred to by name; some of the weird cargo on the plane, like the crate of baby dolls never seen again; and, of course, the caves everyone moved to for a time, populated by the corpses of "Adam & Eve" (and their pouch containing one black rock and one white rock). Lindelof and Cuse have insisted that the caves and the corpses are vital to the overall story arc, and that they'll come back to their meaning eventually. I recommend that those who haven't done so head over to Lostpedia and read some of the fan theories about Adam & Eve. A lot of them suggest some very interesting directions the show could go.

-Watching "Walkabout" again–still one of Lost's best episodes–I was struck by how Locke's paralysis isn't really hidden. People refer to his condition throughout; the surprise is really predicated on our own presumptions. Neat trick, that.

-After this week, I can't wait to catch up to last season's "Flashes Before Your Eyes." That may end up being the series' key episode.