Season 4 Episode 5

The Constant

Aired Sunday 9:00 PM Feb 28, 2008 on ABC

Episode Fan Reviews (147)

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  • It will make your head ache and your heart yearn

    There were a couple of reasons to look forward to a Desmond-centric episode --- there seems to be more in his past worth learning about, and because he's not a member of the Oceanic survivors, there's no way we can know what his future holds. Plus the writers always seem to put a little extra into writing his episodes. But even knowing all that can't really prepare you for 'The Constant', simultaneously one of the most mind-bending and heart pulling episodes the series would ever do.
    We've had a hard time getting to know Desmond's story because the writers have been using the flashbacks to tell it to us in reverse order. Essentially though, this episode is the companion to the Season 3 classic 'Flashes Before Your Eyes'. In that episode, we saw what happened to Desmond when he turned the failsafe key that blew the hatch in the second season finale. In that episode, his present day consciousness seemed to carry over to the past when he was still living in London with Penelope. He kept having flashes and we couldn't tell if he had traveled back in time or whether his life had flashed before his eyes. Now it turns out, it was more the former than the latter. None of this is apparent at the start when the helicopter carrying Sayid and Desmond finally flies back to the freighter, but they end up hitting some bad weather. Something happens and Desmond's consciousness travels back to 1996. (The viewer has a hard time telling this because there is no whooshing sound indicating the typical flashback or forward, which means much like in 'Flashes', this is really happening. Desmond loses his memory and appears to be back in the Royal Scots Guard, just slightly after he breaks up with Penny. He doesn't know what's happening to him, and neither does anyone else. And when they finally get to the freighter, no one seems interested in helping him, even though they've already seen it happen. And everybody on this boat, with the exception of Frank seems very creepy, even the doctor who is trying to treat him. Of course, their idea of treatment is drugging him and locking him up, along with a man named George Minnkowski, who we heard of in some of the previous episodes, but never saw. Somehow whatever's happening to Desmond is happening to George, and it's not looking good.

    Back on the island, everybody is glad to hear back from the freighter, but no one has any idea what has happened to Desmond. Someone does have a clue--- and oddly enough, it's Daniel. (Before this, we once again witness the prime example of nobody on the island ever asking any questions. Daniel asks if Desmond has ever been exposed to electromagnetism or radiation. The viewer knows that's exactly what happened in the Season 2 finale, but on the beach, Jack and Juliet just shrug their shoulders and go "Wha?" Of course, it doesn't help that the main people who know are still with Locke.) Daniel's attempt to solve the problem--- which involves the sat phone, and a rather massive attempt to reconnect --- involves him going to Oxford in order to meet up--- with the 1996 version of himself, and telling him about Eloise, who we will learn is one of Daniel's white mice. (We're not going to find out the significance of that name for awhile.) Daniel is not that hard to convince, surprisingly, because he seems to have devoted his work to figuring out this problem. He then says that Desmond has somehow become unstuck in time, and then gives an explanation as to what may have happened. In 'Flashes' his consciousness traveled backwards in time, but his corporeal self did not. Now it appears that his 1996 consciousness has traveled back to the 2004 one, and because of this he no longer has any memories of what has happened on the island. (As to why Daniel didn't remember this little side trip when he came to the island in the first place, well, Daniel's experiments involved a lot of radiation, and as we see in 1996, he never really thought about how to protect his head, which probably explains why he was such a mess when we first met him.)

    If you're still able to follow all this, then you've clearly been watching Lost very closely. I have, and I still was barely able to keep up with the science of this. But then the science has always been of peripheral importance to me--- I care more about the human element. And this story has that in spades. In order to keep himself anchored in the present, Daniel tells him that he needs a constant, and as anyone who watches this show knows, that's Penny. And even though Frank claims he never heard of Penny, George has--- there are strict orders that no communications from Penny are to be allowed to go through tot he island. (This is actually a pretty big hint as to who really sent the freighter out to the Pacific in the first place.)

    Naturally, this involves another visit with Mr. Widmore again, who is no less disdainful of Des than he was in 'Flashes Before Your Eyes'. While were meeting him, we get another pretty big hit about the island--- Mr. Widmore is bidding on the journal for the Black Rock the slaving ship that somehow ended up in the middle of the island loaded with dynamite. Widmore seems very intent on getting that journal. It's hard to believe he would help Desmond in the first place, but he clearly believes this is more cruel to let Penny tell him that she's forsaken him. (He doesn't know his daughter very well, either.)

    The two scenes near the end of the episode, in many ways, represent the bottom and top of their relationship. Penny clearly thinks that Desmond has gone round the bend, but nevertheless gives him her number and promises that she will not change it before 2004. He then makes the call, there is a long pause--- and then Penny's there. The scene that follows is one of the most moving in Lost's history--- arguably the best since Jin and Sun were reunited in the middle of Season 2. Frantically, each tries to get all the information they can over this choppy connection, finally swearing eternal devotion and the promise that they will find the other. If nothing else, this proves that Desmond is different than the survivors of Oceanic 815--- he has something to hold on to, something that has not broken him, something that makes him want to be saved. When he manages to anchor himself, he has something to live for--- which is more than many of the people of the island can say.

    But Desmond's connection to Penny is not the only one that is important. Daniel knows that he is now connected to Desmond, and in his journal, mixed around a mess of equations and numbers is a telling phrase--- "If anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume will be my constant." The two men know nothing about each other, but they've formed a link that will last them a lot longer than their time on the island

    'The Constant' is an example of how brilliant a great show can be when all of its cylinders are firing. There are many great shows that can find a way of exercising the brain and the heart. And even though it's not a holiday episode, it feels more genuine as a Christmas episode (it takes place on December 24) than the most saccharine of holiday shows. One of the high points in the series, for sure.
    My score:10