Lost Wednesdays: Our Scottish Savior

April 7, 2010
By | 9 Comments

Who doesn’t love Desmond? Most of Lost‘s other characters inspire a range of responses from lovers to haters – even the universally acclaimed performances of Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn eclipse the mixed feelings that some fans have toward their actual characters. But I’ve never come across anybody without a soft spot for the Scottish time-hopping lovelorn button-pusher. And when he was unwrapped as the package last week, fans were atwitter (especially on the Twitter) with anticipation that Desmond would save us from the ambiguity and frustrations of season 6 thus far.

The rescue was not as complete as I’d hoped – the title “Happily Ever After” had cued me to expect resolution in at least one storyline. I had anticipated that Locke would succeed in leaving the island, triggering the end game via the flash sideways. Instead, we spent most of the episode in Desmond’s sideways life and started to see the blurring between realities become manifest. And in the end, that was highly satisfying, mostly because it gave us an excuse to hang with Desmond for every shot of the episode.

I’d jokingly referred to the episode in advance as “a very special Lost,” given Desmond’s centrality and the anticipatory hype. But while no adolescent confronted an emotional trauma and life lessons were not learned, the specialness came from the structure. Most episodes this season have followed Lost‘s paradigmatic structure of bouncing between on-island and off-island storylines. Throughout the show’s run, episodes that deviate from this norm are marked as distinctive, and often become fan favorites – this week featured the sandwich structure of brief on-island segments surrounding a lengthy continuous flash (back or sideways), as seen before in this season’s “Ab Aterno” and notably the third season’s “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” At the level of structure, episodes like this are designed to be noticed and stand out from the standard fare, and they usually deliver with major plot revelations and twists.

It’s too soon to tell how significant these plot revelations really are. While we are shown that sideways world has lingering traces of the “real” world we’ve spent years in, we still don’t know the cause of that transformation in relation to Smokey and his quest to leave the island. We have enough clues to suggest that they are related – the wish-granting allusions that Eloise makes to Desmond echo Locke’s dangling offers to Sayid in “Sundown,” and Widmore’s warning that if Locke leaves, they will all cease to exist “The Package.” I still feel that the sideways are the result of Smokey’s departure, but how that relates to Jughead and Daniel’s cross-reality physics experiments is still unclear.

Many season 6 episodes are designed as direct counterpoints and comparisons to earlier episodes, both in title (“What Kate Does”) and content (echoes of previous Sawyer cons in “Recon”). “Happily Ever After” served as a cover-band medley of Desmond’s greatest hits, with a callout to Charlie’s own literal “Greatest Hits” moments with Claire and Desmond – the repeated meet-cute with Penny from “Catch-22” (with location repurposed from Desmond’s first encounter with Jack), teaming up with both Minkowski and Sayid from “The Constant,” the replay of Charlie’s drowning and “Not Penny’s Boat” from “Through the Looking Glass,” and Widmore’s whiskey and Eloise’s function as extradiegetic timeline referee from “Flashes Before Your Eyes.”

These clever callbacks and references are still hard to evaluate. If the final episodes explains the sideways in a way that feels like a narratively unsatsifying cheat, we’ll probably look back at these parallels as desperate attempts to recapture the magic of previous seasons of greater glory. But if – as I desperately hope and optimistically believe – the sideways are unpacked in a way that offers narrative integrity and emotional payoffs, the parallels will be impressive flourishes and ornamentation on the high-risk brand of serialized storytelling that Lost has pioneered for network television. As is, we’re left with the hope of Desmond as our Morpheus, eager to hunt down fellow travelers and offer them red pills. But who will emerge as The One? My money is on Hugo…

Random favorite fanboy moment: I’ve been eagerly anticipating Daniel Faraday (aka Widmore) to show up and drop some science on us. While that moment was not as enlightening as I’d hoped for, I embrace whatever I can get from my favorite twitchy genius.



9 Responses to “ Lost Wednesdays: Our Scottish Savior ”

  1. Erika on April 7, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    I got the sense that if Smokey gets off the island in the original time line then the secondary one will take over, and I also think that Eloise is somehow aware of this and wants Smokey to escape or at the very least postpone his defeat, because in the sideways world, her son is alive.

  2. Sean O'Sullivan on April 7, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    I like the medley-of-greatest-hits description.

    Two questions:

    1) What do you mean by “highly satisfying,” or “narratively unsatisfying”? I gave a talk on serials and satisfaction recently, and I’m interested in what we mean/expect by the word.

    2) Related: what do you mean by “narrative integrity”? Is there some standard of narrative ethics in operation? Or does integrity speak to the desire to have things fit together? Again, curious about how we use these terms, in relation to serial storytelling.

    Full disclosure: I guess I’m agnostic about this stuff, especially with this show. I wonder (personally) how fully these barometers apply to Lost–by contrast with series that have clearer boundaries. Would this be the same, say, as The Wire ending with a V-style alien invasion, or The Sopranos ending with a cut to black?

    • Jason Mittell on April 7, 2010 at 10:26 AM

      “Satisfying” and “integrity” are like pornography – I know it when I see it. (As to how those terms relate to pornography, I’ll leave that ambiguous…)

      What I mean for both is what I’ve written before in an essay on LOST & evaluation: at its best, the show offers a sense of unity in narrative design – this is all happening for a reason. Integrity is more architectural than ethical, and satisfaction means that our expectations are paid-off. One of my primary expectations for LOST is that the various dangling mysteries, loose ends and narrative twists were motivated by something more than keeping me entertained for an hour – they should add up to something in the end. That expectation of unity is not essential to many other shows.

      As we well know, the challenge of a serialized story is that the end is often deferred past its expiration date. My desperate hope for LOST is that the pay-off is there both intellectually & emotionally: intellectually, it would be a new achievement in network serialized narrative (and help justify my research!); emotionally, I want to feel the joys of a story well-told.

      • Sean O'Sullivan on April 7, 2010 at 10:52 AM

        I wonder about the privileging of “a story well-told”–one that produces joy, pay-offs, satisfaction, etc.

        The two foundational long stories in Western culture–The Iliad and The Odyssey–both ends in ways that we would probably term unsatisfying, by the criteria of well-told stories. (I’d throw in The Aeneid as well.) It’s not that I’m against pay-offs. But I would argue with the idea that pay-offs are a given, especially with long narratives.

        Is there a problematic fundamentalism associated with terms such as “unity,” or “all happening for a reason”? I’m not advocating for chaos. But there’s a lot of middle ground between chaos and unity.

  3. Sean C. Duncan on April 7, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    I’m not sure what the evidence is for the sideways timeline being the one where Smokey gets off the island, though. There’s nothing to disconfirm this as of yet, but I don’t see anything that suggests this is what the sideways timeline is — rather, Dan Widmore’s comments in this week’s episode made it seem pretty clear that it’s a timeline formed because of setting off Jughead, just like they’ve been implying all season.

    It’s a potentially interesting theory, I’m just curious what firm basis it has in anything that’s been revealed so far.

    • Jason Mittell on April 7, 2010 at 9:53 AM

      No firm basis, but Locke told Sayid that if he helps him, he’ll grant him the wish of being able to see Nadia again (which the sideways does). And MiB tells Ricardo that if he helps him get free, he can see Isabella again, suggesting that Smokey is a genie in a bottle of wine. Eloise tells Desmond that his wish has been granted, which I connect to Smokey’s promises. My theory is that Smokey gets off the island by breaking the bottle via Jughead – not sure exactly how he swings that, but we still don’t know what Faraday was up to in Ann Arbor, so that may be a missing link down the road.

  4. Erika on April 7, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    I guess I’m going with Jughead shattered the bottle, creating the dual time lines, one where he’s escaped and one where he hasn’t. But that also assumes Smokey’s freedom from the island is more ambiguous than Jacob’s explanations suggest.

  5. Derek Kompare on April 7, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Great episode, if only for the heapin’ helpin’s of fanwank!

    I’m starting to think that we’ve really got two catastrophic events here, and they might actually be unrelated. The main event seems to be the impending, centuries-in-the-making showdown between Smokey and Jacob, and the settlement of the “candidate” issue. However, has anyone else noticed that neither Smokey nor Jacob has ever referred to Jughead, nor “the Incident”? Why not? I think it’s because they can’t perceive what has happened in the sideways timeline. That is, Jughead was decisive in ways even Smokey and Jacob can’t comprehend. The Oceanic passengers (and, apparently, others with connections, e.g., clearly Desmond, Daniel, and Eloise) can tell there’s something not quite right about the sideways world, and now Desmond is going to be the willing catalyst (in both timelines) to change it.

    What does it mean? Dare I say it? Love conquers all, including vanquishing the machinations of Gods.

    Accordingly, it’s time to start sorting out the “love connections” (sorry!). Going by what we’ve seen so far in S6, our fundamental pairings seem to be:

    Desmond & Penny (duh)
    Charlie & Claire
    Sun & Jin (though they may be fated *not* to connect)
    Daniel & Charlotte
    Charles & Eloise (perhaps why she doesn’t want to change anything?)
    Juliet & James (remember, she told him “It worked,” i.e., she could perceive the sideways timeline)

    It gets trickier with everyone else, but bear with me:

    Miles & his dad (hopefully a Dr. Chang-centric ep with sideways Dharma-ness will come!)
    Jack & his son (resolving his father issues by being a good father)
    Locke & Ben (not romantic per se, but bonding over their experiences)

    This leaves Sayid, Kate, and Hurley. I’m guessing one of them will sacrifice themselves selflessly in the finale, i.e., to stand for something “good” even if it kills them. FWIW, my money’s on Kate for that role. Hugo seems to be the prime candidate for Jacob 2.0, but that seems too obvious. As for Sayid… I gotta think on him a bit more. They’re setting him up for something, but I’m still thinking Kate for the “heroic sacrifice” move.

  6. Sheila Seles on April 7, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Great post, Jason! I thought last night’s episode was the best in a while because dealt in sci-fi instead of the “a wizard did it” fantasy logic that seems to guide the Jacob/MiB stories. (As a side note, I constantly think of the Lucy Lawless episode of the Simpsons while watching Lost now.)

    Still, I wonder how this is all going to come together–and it seems that it is going to come together with Desmond’s uncanny talent. But is Desmond is a tragic hero? Is he going to be our Morpheus (as you suggest) or is he going to become Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time and unable to change his fate?

    Also, I agree about Hugo. It wasn’t ever established that he heard someone say “don’t let the man in black leave the island,” right? I think he either made that up or he heard it from Jacob. But then is it too obvious that Hugo is the final cylon or the One or Jacob 2.0?