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Unpacking the TV show LOST — Season 2: Episodes 23-24
Well here we are again. I took a month off LOST as I wrestled with new and disquieting revelations about the making of my favorite show. I’m still wrestling, but I’m back with more LOST goodness to close out Season 2.
Previously, on LOST: Oceanic Flight 815! It broke apart midair. Then it crashed! Our heroes are the survivors, and they’ve had adventures and uncovered mysteries on a very not deserted island, given that it was occupied by residents who abduct kids and pregnant women, and so forth. Our heroes hate that! There’s a smoke monster in the jungle, and our heroes hate that, too! There’s a mystery hatch leading to a bunker containing a lot of food and supplies, and also a Scotsman named Desmond Hume who maintained the bunker until he ran away, and the mystery bunker has a computer into which you need to enter a sequence every 108 minutes or else the world ends, maybe, and our heroes are conflicted about the bunker! One of our heroes (Michael) just murdered two other heroes (Ana Lucia and Libby) in order to get his abducted son Walt back, but nobody knows that yet (though Sayid is suspicious)!
The funeral of our poor dead friends is interrupted by a sailboat!
It’s the season finale!
Let’s get into it!
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O B S E R V A T I O N
This episode (it’s listed as two episodes but let’s be real) is a big one, and most of the plot details are annoyingly too relevant to just skip over. It’s also the first episode to focus on a character who isn’t exactly a main character but who is crucially prominent to the overarching mystery and the buried understory we’ve been digging up: Desmond Hume, the Scotsman of the Swan.
My plan, as always, is to Observe and then Believe. First, I’ll try to sketch the events of the episode that are important (which again is most of the events). Next, I’ll try to sketch out a framework of what it means that is going to carry us through the rest of the series.
It’s a tall order. Luckily, I am a tall man.
Episode 23-24: LIVE TOGETHER, DIE ALONE, Parts 1 and 2
The action team swim out to the sailboat, which contains one Scotsman, very drunk and very shoot-y. It’s Desmond, last seen in the Season opener hauling ass away from the bunker that had been his home.
Turns out he’d been hauling ass to a specific place: the place where his sailboat, the Elizabeth, was moored. He hadn’t mentioned the sailboat to anybody, given that he didn’t want any hop-ons. He’s spent the ensuing time since then trying to sail to Fiji, but after all this time, he found himself back at the island. His conclusion: there is no getting off the island by natural means. “We’re stuck in a bloody snow globe! There’s no outside world! There’s no escape!” (He’s right, sort of.) Entirely without hope now, he’s turned to the sailboat’s sumptuous but suddenly scant stash of slurpy scotch.
Flashback time. Let’s tell this story chronologically, the better to see through the eyes of Desmond David Hume:
Turns out Des was in the Royal Army, but wasn’t too good at the soldiering. When our flashback begins, he’s being dishonorably discharged at the end of a longish hitch in military prison for crimes unspecified. He’s met by a man named Charles Widmore, about whom much more will eventually be said, but for now I’ll note he used to be a leader of a Jacobian faction on the island and has been seeking to find the island ever since he was banished off of it by … Ben Linus. Widmore is the father of Des’ sweetheart, Penelope, aka “Penny,” and he doesn’t approve of her taste in Scotsmen, and has been using his considerable resources to undermine the relationship. He shows up at the prison to let Des know that Penny is engaged to another (maybe even an Other).
It appears that on some level, Des agrees with Widmore’s low opinion of him, because he decides he needs to gain enough respect from Widmore (and, it’s implied, enough respect for himself) to be worthy of Penny: he’s going to enter and win a … sailboat race around the world … a race that Widmore has sponsored. Mmmkay.
We’ll have to wait for Season 3 to learn more about why he’d choose precisely that weird-ass thing to prove himself, particularly since he isn’t even in possession of an oceangoing sailboat or the means to buy one when he decides that’s the right method for sure. For now, we’ll just say that it is already clear Des is being manipulated by forces beyond his reckoning, and in time this will become even more clear.
Speaking of that: he’s at a Not-Starbucks when he chances upon a nice lady who just so happens to have an oceangoing sailboat (it’s her recently deceased husband’s) and she just so happens to offer it to him for free. “He’d want you to have it,” she says.
Isn’t that a lucky coincidence?
Probably not, actually. The nice lady is none other than Libby Smith (RIP), the woman whose funeral Desmond would someday interrupt with the very sailboat she gave him.1
Next scene is the stadium from the Season opener Jack-back, the one where Jack met Desmond. Turns out that just before that meeting, Penny showed up, having tracked down Desmond, clearly still in love with him, and ready to leave her fiancé (which she must have basically done anyway, given that we never hear about him again) if he’ll just come back, but nope—Des needs to get his honor back. Off he runs, up the stadium steps, and toward his island destiny, as his Penny gently weeps. Old Chaz Widmore sure does seem to have done a number on Des.
Flash forward to the sailboat race itself. Storm! Boat wreck! A man in a hazmat suit brings him somewhere! It’s the Swan station! He’ll be there for 3 years!
The man in the hazmat suit is Kelvin Inman, who we last saw in a Sayid-back as a U.S. funded CIA spook teaching our good friend how to torture back in the first Gulf War. Now he’s on the island. Why? How? Don’t worry about it.2
Inman’s been there a while. From him, we learn a lot of things that are going to be plot-relevant soon and in some cases for the rest of the series, such as: the hazmat suit is to protect against the unsafe environment outside (see also: the QUARANTINE warning affixed on the inside of the hatch door); Inman is the onetime partner of a man named Radzinksy, and has been a solo act ever since Radzinsky committed suicide; Radzinsky knew how to hack the lockdown protocols, effectively giving him control over the blast doors—knowledge that has now passed to Des through Inman. Radzinsky is also responsible for the creative edits to the orientation video, and for starting the black-light map of the island, though that is an effort that Inman has continued. So that’s a lot of open questions answered.
Other Inman facts: One day, he gets drunk and reveals to Des that there’s a nuclear device underneath the bunker, which he calls a “failsafe.” It’s activated by a key, which Inman has. Turn the key “and this all goes away.”
Inman also has possession of the one hazmat suit, and he’s not sharing. Des is quarantined inside the Swan, day after day. And so a few years pass, with Desmond only kept going by the hope of Penny.
Not long after that, Des, noticing that Inman’s hazmat suit has a large rip, becomes (accurately) suspicious that the infection is a ruse. Des follows Inman, and learns that the Elizabeth isn’t missing, as Inman claimed. It’s nearly refurbished—that’s what Inman was doing on his excursions outside—and Inman is planning to bug out in the very near future, leaving Des holding the sequence-entering bag all alone.
Des is understandably pissed. The two men fight, and Inman is accidentally killed.
Des grabs Inman’s failsafe key and runs back to the Swan. He’s almost too late. The system failure warnings have begun, and metal objects have started flying around when he enters the sequence—just in time.
Alone, Des becomes suicidal, but Locke pounding on the hatch following Boone’s death provides a reassurance of human contact, restoring his hope in the same way that the light he shone upward restored Locke’s. It’s a neat scene.
About a month later, the Oceanics break into the Swan.
That pretty much catches us up.
Meanwhile, back on the main timeline of the island of Earth Number 4815162342, Sayid has decided that Desmond’s sailboat gives them the perfect way to get the jump on the Others.
To summarize from last time very briefly: Michael is insisting that Jack, Sawyer, Hurley, and Kate go with him to attack an Others encampment that Michael insists is weakly armed, to recapture Walt, his abducted son. Sayid strongly suspects that Michael is actually leading them into a trap, and he’s convinced Jack of this as well.
Sayid’s plan is this: he will sail around the island to the encampment—the very spot to which Michael is ostensibly leading Jack & Co., ostensibly to attack the ostensibly weakened Others. Using the sailboat’s speed, Sayid will scout the enemy position, and then rejoin the hikers with up-to-the-minute intel so they can attack more effectively, springing the trap with a trap of their own. A pretty good plan!
Pretty good, that is, if not for the fact that Sayid, who assumes Michael is lying about everything else, takes Michael’s stated destination (the Others encampment) at face value. Oops, Sayid. You weren’t skeptical enough3.
Anyway, the regulators mount up and head on foot into the jungle. They have some adventures and see a mystery bird who calls out Hurley’s name4. On and on they travel. Sawyer says sarcasms, Jack glowers, etc. etc. Eventually, the truth about Michael comes out, and Harold Perrineau really is extraordinary here at communicating Michael’s desperation and guilt and shame and resolve.
Trusting to Sayid’s plan, the now extremely paranoid team continues on, still hoping to spring their trap. Eventually they come upon a clearing and the most extraordinary thing: a pneumatic tube and a massive pile of abandoned canisters containing notebooks full of observations, which sharp-eyed viewers will connect to the Pearl observation station discovered recently by Eko and Locke, about which more soon.
Meanwhile, on the open seas, Sayid has taken the sailboat as planned (accompanied by Jin, who knows how to sail, and Sun, who can translate). On the way, they see a giant plinth carrying the remains of a statue. All that’s left is an immense 4-toed sandaled foot5.
Sayid & Co. arrive at the Others’ encampment and discover it totally deserted—a bad sign. An even worse sign: the hatch door leads to nothing. It was an ersatz hatch6. Whatever the Others are planning on doing, it’s not going down here. Sayid, realizing the error of his assumption, lights the signal fire to warn Jack.
Jack & Co. see the smoke and realize they are many miles away from their expected destination. Michael was indeed leading them to a trap, and they’re in it. Suddenly they hear the whispers that attend an incipient Others attack. Thwipp thwip thwipp go the tranq darts. It’s over without a fight. The Gang Gets Abducted.
They’re brought to a pier by the ocean. Beside the pier is the same boat the Others used to abduct Walt. The leader of the Others appears and sure enough it’s “Henry Gale” Ben Linus, who claims he doesn’t like the deal his people struck with Michael, but they’ll honor it, because, as “Henry” says in one of the most chilling lines of the series so far, “we’re the good guys, Michael.”
And that’s not even the main plot.
In the Main Plot, Locke and Eko come into a conflict at the Swan bunker that turns out to be highest of high stakes. As mentioned, the two men recently came upon the Pearl, another bunker designed to surveil the Swan, and an instructional video found there made the claim that entering the sequence at the Swan is nothing but a psychological experiment, to be monitored and reported on via handwritten notebooks and delivered through pneumatic tubes. There’s also a printout showing a timestamp of every entry of every sequence, which will be important soon.
Locke’s faith in his Great Purpose—entering the sequence to save the world—has been shattered by the revelation. Eko, who found the hatch through a series of events involving his dead brother that pushed past remarkable into miraculous (and who hasn’t forgotten that—training video or no training video—there is a massive electromagnetic force on the other side of the bunker wall), has only had his faith strengthened by the experience, and takes up the mission Locke abandoned.
Given the fact that the pneumatic tube carries the notebooks to an abandoned pile in the middle of the jungle (and also given what winds up happening), it’s safe to say that Eko is in the right of it, but never mind, because John Locke’s faith in the Swan’s mission may be shattered, but his faith in John Locke being the person who should decide what happens remains fully intact, and he’s decided the sequence must go unentered. When Locke tries to smash the computer, Eko overpowers him and locks him out of the hatch. Locke goes off to cry.
That’s when Charlie happens along, and informs Locke that Desmond Hume has returned, which sets off the ensuing fateful chain of events. I’d ask you to note that the way Dominic Monaghan plays Charlie here is significantly more … malevolent? than his usual register, then ponder the idea I’ve floated that Charlie has become susceptible to the influence of The Adversary, who would very much like Locke to prevent Eko from entering the sequence. I’m not saying anything, Joey … I’m just sayin’.
Locke enlists a still-soused Des, who agrees to use his understanding of the Swan station’s security systems to take control of the bunker, while stranding Eko on the other side of the blast doors.
A desperate Eko enlists Charlie (who is back to his normal-seeming self) to blow the blast doors off their hinges? tracks? with some leftover Black Rock dynamite, a gambit which succeeds only in incapacitating the two of them, because the thing about blast doors is that they can handle blasts, Eko. Come on, man.
Locke and Des get to gabbing in order to pass the few remaining minutes left on the Armageddon clock, and Des learns about the (phony, as we now know) Pearl observation bunker. Des reviews the sequence log and realizes that the day he killed Kelvin and nearly missed entering the sequence is there—and that it corresponds exactly to the day Oceanic 815 crashed.
“I think I crashed your plane,” Des says. Spooked by this confluence (and perhaps sobered up a bit), he is now questioning Locke’s “let’s let the numbers flip down” plan … but Locke bashes the shit out of the computer. “You’ve killed us,” Des breathes. Might have been nice to have had that thought a couple hours ago, Des.
The sequence goes unentered.
The numbers flip over to red hieroglyphs.
Very bad stuff starts to happen.
The sky turns purple. The island shakes. Everything metal inside the bunker flies around at high velocities. “I was wrong,” Locke says to Eko. No shit, John.
Des runs below-hatch for the failsafe.
After a quick “I love you, Penny,” he turns the key.
The bomb goes off.
The universe ends (is my belief).
Then it comes back. Everything … seems the same. Doesn’t it?
A hatch door falls out of the sky and hits the Oceanic beach.
We now take you back to the Others pier and the abduction in process.
True to his word, Ben Linus returns Walt to Michael, and give him the boat, sending them off on a very specific bearing. Michael does this, and while both of them will be back for occasional guest appearances, this takes both him and Walt out of the series as regulars for good, in a moment that is gutting both narratively and (due to revelations about how Harold Perrineau was treated by the showrunners) metatextually.
Hurley is sent back to inform the rest of the Oceanics to never again try to come into their territory. Sawyer, Kate, and Jack get a bag over their heads.
Coda: in an icy (Arctic?) station, some scientists notice their equipment has registered an unusual electromagnetic event. They immediately use a red phone to call somebody and let them know “it’s happened.”
We see the person who answers. It’s Penelope Widmore.
She’s still looking for Desmond.
She’s found him.
End of Season 2
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B E L I E F
OK, let’s believe a bit based on our observations, and let’s try to be an Eko instead of a Locke. Let’s start with a couple easy ones.
1) Libby: We’re going to learn that there is an island-aware faction that tries to keep the timeline going the way that it’s meant to go, and that they believe a crucial (maybe the crucial) part of that involves getting Desmond Hume to the island. If you want to know why I think Libby was a member of one of the various island-aware factions prior to crashing on Oceanic 815, well, to me this “hey I have a boat, want my boat? you can have my boat” scene is for me pretty much case closed, QED.
2) The Others’ Big Plan. The gang winds up abducted at the end of this episode because the Others had them on a specific list. Why did Michael have to bring Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Hurley? Jack is needed, because we’ll learn that Ben has spine cancer, and Jack is a neurosurgeon. Including Kate makes some sense, because having her would make it easier to manipulate Jack. But … Sawyer? And if the point of Hurley was just to send somebody back to warn the rest, why did it have to be him? And the fake beards and rags were to disguise their strength, but since they’re so strong, why not just abduct Jack? I’m going to be real with you: it doesn’t make a lot of sense. We can chalk it up to the Adversary’s manipulations, but I think the reality is that Michael Emerson was brought in to create some intrigue, and his performance blew the showrunners away, and then they had to decide who his character really was and they just didn’t figure that stuff out yet and were sort of scrambling. So they made him a leader of the Others and then they had to reverse-engineer what the Others’ plan and overall leadership structure was. It’s going to get worse in Season 3 before it gets better, I’m afraid. But it will get better, and I’ll do my best next season to trace through the parts that make sense of other parts until a cohesive picture starts to form.
3) Desmond. We’ll unpack more of this in Season 3. Let’s lay down the tracks on what the hell is going on.
At the core, I believe what’s happening is that the intelligence I’ve been calling The Island is a multidimensional entity with effectively omnipotent power and an interest in progress. To further this interest, It is conducting an experiment, and those of us who live inside the experiment would call this experiment “reality.” And I’ve referred to Earth Number 4815162342 because I think that the reality we are seeing is an iteration of the experiment.
I also believe that each iteration of the experiment is subject to a great deal of variance, but generally requires a specific set of constants beyond which it stops being its own discrete iteration and becomes a new and separate one. (We’ll see a whole business throughout Season 3 with Charlie that I think is meant to illustrate this, so more proof points are coming soon enough).
I believe that a human mind is nearly incapable of handling existence in a different iteration of reality, and that finding oneself in such an iteration can only be managed by a human mind if that human establishes contact with something that is constant to their particular existence across all iterations (actually I don’t so much “believe” this as “remember that we will be explicitly told this exact thing someday”).
Think of reality as a river with many branches and tributaries.
Each tributary is its own iteration of reality—life, the universe and everything.
You can flow pretty freely within a tributary, but if you flow too far outside, you are no longer in that tributary, you’re in another one, and it will go to a different endpoint.
Each branch is another core reality, creating its own sets of iterations downriver. Each person might be in millions of different iterations, yet not be present at all in trillions of others, because the constant events of those iterations preclude that person’s existence.
And so, the further you go “upriver” the more foundational the constant.
I believe the most foundational observable constant of the experiment is the decision of the entity known as the Adversary to oppose the experiment, on the basis of the unworthiness of humans to partake in reality.
A foundational constant further downriver from there that nevertheless exists far upriver is the manifestation of The Island and The Adversary, away from a unified personage, and into the split personages of Jacob and his twin. At this branch, Jacob and his twin are the constants, and all iterations that spring from there are defined by Jacob’s attempts to contain his twin, and his twin’s attempts to destroy reality.
I believe, then, that each iteration has a true constant—something that is always true of that iteration of reality—and that in the narrative we are watching, Desmond Hume is an upriver constant. Even more specifically, I think that Desmond Hume being exposed to massive amounts of the light at the heart of the island is a constant event of this iteration that occurs pretty far upriver, and that this makes Desmond Hume the constant of this iteration for everybody else who shares reality with him.
And I believe that the constant for Desmond is Penny’s love for him—by which I mean we’ll eventually be told that explicitly.
4) The Event. As we saw, the event was caused by a nuclear device, which is buried under the Swan.
Later, we will discover that the nuclear device was not buried under the Swan at all. It was set off back in 1977, before the Swan could be built, by a group travelling backward through time, at the exact moment of the breach.
How to explain this paradox?
I just said that one of the most foundational constants is the split of The Island and The Adversary into competing twin manifestations.
I believe that one foundational constant in a branch that occurs “downriver” from that point is “the incident”—that is, Dharma Initiative piercing into the light at the heart of the island. I suspect that this event was a major success of The Adversary, and resulted in the destruction of trillions of permutations and iterations—that only a handful (say a few 100,000) of branches of reality continued from that point. I believe that in these surviving iterations, survival came about through quick action by people on the island (possibly the Dharma team, possibly the Jacobian group they’d dubbed “the hostiles,” or possibly both working in cooperation). I believe we’ll see two main possibilities here. In some cases, somebody collapsed the breach completely at the moment of its inception through the use of a nuclear device that was already present on the island. In others, somebody contained the breach and established the Swan station we’ve been observing with the numerical-sequence system and the nuclear device embedded below as a failsafe.
I believe that so far, we’ve been watching an iteration of reality consistent with the latter example. I believe that iteration has now been destroyed.
And I believe from here on out, we’ll be watching an iteration consistent with the former example, which involves a different geographical and metaphysical configuration for the island itself,7 a configuration that makes the island detectable in ways it hadn’t previously been, which will lead to a series of events resulting in a team of time-travelers setting off a nuclear device in 1977.
I belive Desmond Hume is an upriver constant of both of those possibilities, which makes him uniquely able to bridge the two—which is what I believe we just watched him do.
So it seems to me, in ways that I think will eventually become observable, that because of some very particular qualities possessed by Desmond Hume, all our characters, and their awareness, and their memories, and their consciousnesses, have moved from the tributary they were in—a tributary that the Adversary tried, successfully, to destroy—into another one, a parallel one, one that is almost exactly the same.
L O S T
Next Time: Season 3, Y’all.
A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. Mmmm! He does go well with the chicken.
What was her husband’s name? David. Desmond’s middle name. Hey, did you know we’ll eventually discover that Desmond’s father disappeared mysteriously? We never do learn what his name was. No, nothing. Let’s move on.
No, really. Don’t. He came, probably not long after the Gulf War scenes we saw. Radzinsky would have been in the Swan for nearly 15 years at that point. You can ask “how did Inman come to the hatch?” but this is a case where the mystery is the answer. The fact that he’s on the island, here, in a coincidence that brushes past unlikely on the way to miraculous, tells us the only answer we’ll really need: these people are interconnected, and some will other than their own draws them either to the island itself or to other people who are similarly island-connected. We’re left to conclude that this is likely because of their spiritual proximity to the people Jacob has drawn Island-ward here on Earth 4815162342 … and recognizing the existence of these connections is going to be crucial to understanding the final season. It also tells us that somebody was still recruiting people to the island under the Dharma brand after Dharma had been purged from the island … but we’ll get there some other day.
Sayid’s also going to make a pillar of black smoke as a signal to bring Jack & Company to him. “This time they will know we are coming,” he says, which is a pretty cool callback to the last season's finale, but a really dumb part of the plan if you think about it, given that surprise is the advantage (it’s also inaccurate, since Sayid knows that it was Rousseau who set the fire last time, not the Others), but on the other hand—hey look over there!
Hurleybird is never explained or even mentioned again, but the show firmly establishes that the island is full of spirits of the dead carrying unfinished business from life, and has already strongly implied that those spirits can manifest in animal form, so I’m going to say it’s Libby warning Hurley.
It won’t matter for a long time, but it was built by ancient Egyptians, and Jacob lives there.
I saw Ersatz Hatch at Alpine in 1994; they were great.
To be unpacked later. I thought I’d get into it this time, but damn this is long.