In my recap of Lost‘s fourth episode of season four, “Eggtown,” I speculated about physicist Daniel Faraday‘s odd behavior. He wept while watching news footage of a submerged plane alleged to be Oceanic 815, and when he later arrived on the island with the team sent to capture Ben Linus, he suffered from temporary memory loss:
Why would Daniel be crying over traumatic 815er-related events he hasn’t experienced yet? I’m beginning to suspect Daniel’s weeping scene was a flash-forward. Or is Daniel able to foretell the future? Or is he unstuck in time?
In “The Constant,” we receive an explanation for Daniel’s time-space continuum issues, which are the same symptoms Desmond experienced during both last season’s “comeback show,” “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” and this ep, which acts as a sequel to “Flashes.”
(Spoilers after the jump)
Due to heavy exposure to the island’s electromagnetism, Desmond has been Slaughterhouse-Fiving back and forth between 1996 and his time on the island in 2004 (in other words, Desmond and Daniel are unstuck in time, for those of you who only know Kurt Vonnegut as that guy who helped Rodney Dangerfield finish his lit class term paper).
Electromagnetism exposure has also made a reluctant time traveler out of freighter communications officer George Minkowski (Fisher Stevens, making his first—and maybe last—onscreen appearance on the show after being nothing more than a voice on the freighties’ satellite phone), who’s been confined to the ship’s sickbay when Desmond and Sayid meet him.
Electromagnetism-induced time travel can drive you batshit crazy and kill you, which is why, as Daniel explains to Desmond, you need to be in touch with a “constant”—a person or item that you’re familiar with in both times—to keep you sane and help you distinguish between the past and present. Who does Desmond choose as his constant? Penny Widmore (Sonya Walger), of course. Daniel picks Desmond (a page from the physicist’s notebook reads: “If anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume will be my constant”). As for George, he doesn’t know he’s supposed to have a constant (or maybe his brain has short-circuited so badly he’s forgotten how to find the constant), so he dies.
Daniel’s time-traveling ability developed from exposure to a different source: the radiation from the pink laser device he used on his lab rat Eloise for time travel experiments he conducted at Oxford’s Queens College physics department in ’96. In the ep’s niftiest trick, ’04 Daniel tells ’04 Desmond to visit him at Oxford the next time he flashes back to ’96 and instructs him on what to do to convince his past self that he’s from the future (give ’96 Daniel coordinates for the device, mention Eloise).
The meetings with Daniel at Oxford in ’96 save Desmond’s life. The monk-turned-soldier-turned-sailor learns what he needs to do to survive the stress of time travel, like following the constant, so he visits Penny in the past, some time after her sinister pop Charles (Alan Dale) forced them to break up. He asks her for her phone number (7946 0893), which he’ll dial when he jumps back to the freighter eight years later. In the season’s first genuine happy ending, Desmond reaches out and touches Penny, who’s celebrating Christmas Eve ’04 and is overjoyed to receive confirmation from her boo that he’s alive.
A humorless yet intriguing mash-up of Vonnegut, the much-missed Journeyman, Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan origin flashbacks and “The Tholian Web,” “The Constant” functions as a breather from the Oceanic Six mucky muck (as if we needed one). But at least “The Constant” isn’t as superfluous as the filler eps from last season (even Jack’s tattoos received their own flashbacks in what has to be one of the series’ biggest time-wasters) because it finally provides answers to the time travel mystery.
Of course, because this is Lost, “The Constant” also opens up a whole new can of whatdafrak.
Stray observations, brother!
-Is exposure to electromagnetism the cause of Jack and Hurley’s mental breakdowns after they return to civilization in the future? Some Lost fans have speculated that many of the 815ers will die from some sort of plague or malady, and the Oceanic Six will carry this malady with them. Hence, the Six will exhibit the same electromagnetism-induced symptoms (involuntary time travel, seeing dead people, nosebleeds, convulsions, “Tholian Web”-style overacting, anal leakage) that afflicted Desmond, Daniel and George, who predicts that the side effects are “going to happen to all of us, once we start heading to that island again.”
-Who else on the island has been experiencing side effects?
-Why was George not allowed to respond to calls from Penny in the freighter’s radio room? Did Charles order the freighties to ignore her?
-Who sabotaged George’s communications equipment? Was it Regina, who’s been answering all communications ever since George went nuts, or Ben’s “spy on the boat” (I think the spy is Michael)?
-I like the subtle Homicide-style jump cuts while Desmond slams on the sickbay door and demands to be let out. The cuts suggest Desmond is about to jump back to ’96, but somehow his anger is preventing himself from jumping.
-The ep’s only humorous moment: the surprise jump cut from ’04 to ’96 that interrupts both composer Michael Giacchino’s tense score cue and Sayid in mid-sentence while he gives Desmond and George the okay to escape sickbay.
-After Desmond snaps George out of his catatonic state (that’s what happens to someone while their consciousness is whisked back to the past), the freightie gives the only reference to his past: “I was just on a ferris wheel.” Supposedly with Johnny Five.
He should have been your constant, George.
On a scale consisting of Lost‘s cursed numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 (4 being the lowest, 42 being the highest)…