It's The End of the World As He Knows It: Desmond's Life Flashes Before Him on Lost

Wow. Talk about a shocker of an episode. I'm still a little stunned by the oddness, to be entirely honest.

I'm talking, of course, about last night's Desmond-centric episode of Lost ("Flashes Before Your Eyes"), which explained the nature of his precognitive abilities and what happened to him when he turned the fail safe key in the hatch. Well, sort of, anyway.

Let's refresh: At the end of last season, Locke forced the computer timer to reach zero, despite the attempts by Eko to prevent this from happening. Desmond has spent three years pressing the button and was eager to escape his purpose, though he realized that the last time he didn't push said button, he caused the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. Still with me? He entered the secret passageway, inserted the key into a certain octagonal lock, and BOOM! the hatch imploded. Somehow, Eko, Desmond, and Locke were all miraculously saved from a fatal, well, squishing inside the hatch. Desmond woke up, naked and bleeding, but otherwise unharmed.

But not entirely. As we learned on last night's episode, Desmond was thrown back in time to his past where he was forced to relive key moments in his life and make the same choices he made back then. Or did he? It's not entirely clear what actually happened (we'll get to that in a minute) and so far the show has remained within some semblance of scientific possibility. Was what happened to Desmond time travel? Or just his subconscious processing everything that had happened to him? And how does that explain the precognitive flashes?

It's those precognitive flashes that have twice saved the life of Claire, or so we thought ... earlier this season, Desmond constructed a makeshift lightning rod that prevented Claire's hut from catching on fire; last night, he ran over a mile from the jungle to run into the ocean and save Claire from drowning. Except Claire's not the one who died. In fact, as the end of the episode revealed, it's not Claire that Desmond's trying to save: it's Charlie! Both times now, Desmond has intervened in attempts to save Charlie's life. He was meant to have been electrocuted when lightning hit the tent, he was meant to have drowned trying to save Claire. But why is Charlie fated to die? Does it have something to do with the fact that he already died once before (waaaay back in Season One when Ethan hung up to rot on that tree)? Curious.

But even more curious is the fact that Desmond knows these things. It's almost as if the Desmond in the now already experienced these events and is reliving them in a state of constant deja vu, just like the Desmond in the "flashbacks." Did Desmond already live through every life experience he will ever face and is aware at this point in time of his past, present, and future? Or is there something more nefarious at work here?

In his flashbacks, Desmond relives the fateful encounters that propel him onto the island in a few short years: Penelope (Sonya Walger) moving in with him, his attempt to ask for her hand in marriage from her evil tycoon father Charles Widmore (Alan Dale, still not quite getting the accent down); and his break-up with Penelope, the latter facilitated by a certain encounter in a jewelry shop.

About that encounter: Fionnula Flanagan (of The Others, heh) plays a kindly shop owner namd Ms. Hawking (yes, echoing rather intentionally author Stephen Hawking of A Brief History of Time, shown last week) who shows Desmond the perfect engagement ring. But when he wants to purchase the ring, she refuses to sell it to him, saying that Desmond doesn't buy the ring, doesn't ask Penny to marry him, and breaks her heart in the end, leading him to enlist in the Royal Scots, enter a sailing competition, and end up on the island, where he has to push the button. Pushing the button is the only great thing he ever accomplishes in his life.

Wait, whah? Is Des caught in a time loop? Is he in the past? Or is Ms. Hawking part of his subconscious? Or is she part of the Island itself, forcing Desmond to choose the events leading up to his internment on the island?

It's worth noting that Desmond's namesake, David Hume, was an English philosopher whose works dealt with the problem of causation. Hume challenged the claim that one event preceding another directly caused the second event; instead, Hume asserted that causation was "little more than expectation for certain events to result after other events that precede them." The ever helpful Wikipedia has this to say on the topic:

"We cannot actually say that one event caused another. All we know for sure is that one event is correlated to another. For this Hume coined the term 'constant conjunction.' That is, when we see that one event always 'causes' another, what we are really seeing is that one event has always been 'constantly conjoined' to the other."

That constant conjunction is what sends Desmond to the island: intricately interlocking events that propel Desmond to a specific point in time and space. Hume believes that the only thing we can believe, then, in the face of a false causality, is our own senses. Hence, Desmond's flashes, which time and time again prove to be true. (I'd also check out Hume's bundle theory of the self, which seems particularly apt, as well.)

So is Charlie fated to die then? It certainly seems that way. Nothing can be avoided and the universe, as the helpful Ms. Hawking points out, has a certain way of ensuring that things occur the way they are meant to, "course correcting," in order to ensure that the end result is the same every time. Saving Charlie from dying one day means that the next the universe will find a different way of making it happen. Same with the man with the red shoes (nice echo, BTW, of The Wizard of Oz). If she had warned him about the building collapse, he would have slipped in the shower, or been mowed down by a taxi. The result is always the same. And Desmond, despite trying to fight against this notion with his skepticism, is doomed to eventually fail Charlie. One can only escape death so many times before it sticks.

What else struck me as I watched the episode? That painting in Widmore's office seemed particularly easter-egg strewn. Stylistically, it seemed to echo the paintings found in the hatch when Jack and Locke first explore at the beginning of Season Two. I had always assumed Desmond painted those murals (he does have experience as a set designer for the Royal Shakespeare Company), but why would Widmore have it hanging in his office then? Or did Desmond gain inspiration from that very painting? On a more concrete level, the polar bear shows up in the painting and reversing the letters found at the painting's top reveals the word NAMASTE. Clever that.

And it's only fitting that Charlie turned up crossing paths with Desmond; I've had a theory for a while now that eventually Desmond will have crossed paths with every single character on the island before the crash. But as for the significance of this week's flashbacks/flash forwards, I'm still trying to puzzle it out. Theories, anyone?

Oh, and that pin Ms. Hawking wears? It's an ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a serpent devouring its tail. Or, quite literally, the vicious circle. How very fitting.

Next week on Lost ("Stranger in a Strange Land"), there's a power struggle between Jack and the Others following the completion of Ben's surgery, and Kate, Sawyer, and Karl continue their flight from "Alcatraz." And the answer to three burning questions, including what happened to the kids taken from the tail section, what the Others want, and what the deal is with flight attendant Cindy. I cannot bloody wait!

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.