Dear Seth and Chad: I don't know what's worse. To be the Lost TV clubber who has to write the first dispatch immediately after watching a crappy episode like last week's "The Package," or immediately after watching a great one like tonight's "Happily Ever After."
I think it was you, Seth, who said that you could predict in advance whether an episode would intrigue or drag based on who was the episode's featured character. Locke, yes. Jack, no. Sayid, no. Ben, yes. Sawyer, yes. Richard, double yes. Sun and Jin, a big N-O. And you predicted that Desmond Hume's episode would be great because he's the most charismatic and enigmatic member of the Lost dramatis personae. The best combination of "Hurley's good nature, Sawyer's roguish charm, and Jack's heroic impulses" is how you put it.
"Happily Ever After" disturbs the sideways-in-Los Angeles formula that the show's creators have been cranking out by making Desmond the first character to puncture the sidewaysness of it all. He both questions the "reality" he's living and sees through it to what lies beyond.
We didn't have to see Charles Widmore's thugs feed Desmond to a super-duper electromagnetic Tesla machine, as we did tonight, to understand that the brootha-man is unique. In a fourth season episode titled "The Constant," filled with Desmond's adventures in time- and space-tripping, he visits physicist Daniel Faraday at Oxford and learns, among other things, that to maintain his sanity he must find an anchor—a "constant" to protect him from all the cosmic dislocations he's experiencing. Desmond chooses Penny Widmore as his constant, and via telephone and ship-to-shore and over Lost's many seasons, she's served that function.
(We also learned in "The Constant" that Faraday had picked a constant for himself, something he discovers while reading his journal on the island. "If anything goes wrong," a note in his own hand reads, "Desmond Hume will be my constant.")
Tonight's episode brings quite a gaggle of Lost characters into contact in Sidewaysville. There's Hurley and Claire at the airport; Dr. Jack at the hospital (natch); Widmore; Widmore's wife, Eloise; daughter Penny; Daniel Faraday/Widmore; and Driveshaft bassist Charlie. There's so much Charlie that for a few moments I thought the wife had switched the channel to a rerun of The Lord of the Rings while I was taking a bathroom break.
Charlie appears to understand intuitively what Daniel Widmore does more concretely—that Sidewaysville ain't exactly real. And schooling Desmond in the reality of the unreality of Los Angeles seems to be the whole point of the episode. Didn't Eloise Widmore sound like some New Age therapist when she scolded Desmond to "Stop looking for it" and told him "You're not ready yet"? Desmond seemed broken and confused, which is how I feel when Chadwick cracks on me for doubting the genius of Lost. You've not yet felt the full warp and heat of Chad's scorn, Seth, but when he gets going he's like a cross between Eloise and the Angela Lansbury character in The Manchurian Candidate: a howling, scathing, harpy. Actually, he does little howling, but when we ridicule his precious Lost he does become a tad wiggy.
But back to the show. Both of you guys will have a great time decoding the episode during the daylight hours of Wednesday, and I look forward to gleaning your insights. I got a hunch watching the episode that we're going to be treated to a huge Sideways episode some time in the next few weeks with all of Lost's primary characters converging at a game at Dodger Stadium or a night of music in the Hollywood Bowl or maybe even at the Griffith Observatory. Of course there are no good doubles for those locations in Hawaii, so maybe it will be something more subtle.
Last notes before I time-travel to bed:Even though the Mercedes' Chappaquiddick swan-dive was previewed last week, it caught me by surprise. And when the underwater Charlie displayed the "Not Penny's Boat" message on his palm for Desmond, reprising his death scene at the Looking Glass station from the Season 3 finale, I blinked eight times in flustered recognition and started Googling to make the complete connection. … Isn't "You All Everybody" the most unlikely hit song you've ever heard? Weren't the Rembrandts available to write and perform something catchier? … I've heard of people fainting from a kiss, but a handshake? … A rabbit named "Angstrom"! It was a John Updike joke! … Did you know there is a real Eloise Widmore? She appears to be an expert on how to catch a cheating spouse. … Who is the lucky bastard who gets to file first next week? It should be a terrific show because the featured character is that Camaro-driving, chicken-cooking, nut-house living American prince, Hurley. … Is this the right place to plug Seth's new book, Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World? I think so.