Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Thoughts on Happily Ever After...

BIGMOUTH: Before I get to my recap of "Happily Ever After," I've got a fun little LOST mystery for you all everybody.  Where else have we met the enigmatic airline pilot who appears in the background of Desmond and Claire's encounter at Mirror-LAX?

Hint: he's someone we all know extremely well...

Give up? 

It's our own koreambear!  Now that he's famous, The K-Bear has asked me to communicate a few simple rules for fan encounters.  First, he's happy to sign autographs as long as he's not eating or with his family.  Under no circumstances, however, should you make eye contact, as that enrages him.  Also, he's available to make private appearances for a fee, which is non-negotiable and non-refundable.  Finally, if you want to get him a gift, he likes a nice spicy kimchi.  I'll be acting as The K-Bear's agent for the time being, so contact me for information about appearances, how to keep your eyes averted, and what brands of kimchi he prefers.

As for the episode, I'm admittedly torn.  I enjoyed the Mirror reunion of Desmond, Eloise, Penny, and Daniel.  I was also intrigued by Desmond's ability to flash sideways into that reality.  But I had some problems ranging from the nitpicky (couldn't Des have hit the brakes when Charlie grabbed the wheel?) to more substantial concerns about the logic and direction of the show.  I fear we may look back on this episode as the point when the mythology of LOST veered off the tracks.  So "Happily Ever After" actually gets two sickness scores superimposed like Schrodinger's Cat.  If I'm right, the episode is a 7 (5 for character, 2 for mythology).  If I'm wrong, as I hope I am, the mythological component boosts that score to a 9.

It is, in fact, a violation! Team Darlton promised that the conversation would change after this episode, and so it has.  But I can't shake the sense we're being misdirected big time.  Like many of you, my initial interpretation of the confrontation between Desmond and Eloise was that she must be some kind of inter-dimensional cop charged with preventing Desmond from making contact with our Losties in the Mirror universe.  Upon rewatching, however, I got a completely different vibe.  Eloise seemed more worried that Desmond might discover an embarrassing Widmore family secret (i.e., Penny's illegitimate birth) with his prying. When she said his conduct was a "violation," she meant of propriety and their privacy.

You're not ready, Desmond!

The scene obviously paralleled their encounter in "Flashes Before Your Eyes."  But watch the latter again and you notice some important differences.  Ms. Hawking displayed unambiguous knowledge not just of Desmond's future, but that of Mr. Red Shoes, too.  By contrast, Mirror Eloise never clearly established her awareness of what Desmond was supposed to do.  As I mentioned, everything she said can be read as an admonishment for him to mind his own damn business.  It's always tempting to attribute greater power to Eloise than she actually possesses.  After "Flashes Before Your Eyes," I figured she must see the future, too.  Now, of course, it seems her foreknowledge was limited to the information in Daniel's journal.

I think I already did.  Speaking of Dan the Man, his comments seemed to confirm that the bomb's detonation was responsible for creating the Mirror reality.  But therein lies another major concern because I fear the show is about to lapse into paradox.  Logically, if the timeline splits in 1977 because of the bomb, the two branches should differ only after the split.  They should share a common past in which the survivors of Oceanic 815 traveled back in time from the future of the Crash reality to cause the Incident in both branches.  This shared history should include all of the events that predate the Incident, including the time flashes, Little Ben Linus's shooting, and his subsequent bath in the Temple.  Here's how the timeline should look:

 Based on a diagram by Angela Jarecki

The alternative falls prey to a variation of the grandfather paradox.  To review, in a universe with only one timeline, traveling back in time and killing your grandfather creates a logical contradiction because his death means you shouldn't exist to travel back in time and kill him.  One way to avoid the paradox is if your act creates a second timeline branching from that point forwards in spacetime like the bomb did on LOST.  Obviously, you're never born or time travel in this new branch.  But the you who hails from the original branch must remain a part of the history of the new branch.  Erasing you yields another logical contradiction because the new branch depends on your act of murder for its existence.

Diagram by Dan Falk

Unfortunately, LOST may be taking precisely that paradoxical route.  As Netprophet and others note, the bomb seems to have had a retro-causal ripple effect that erased the events leading up to the Incident in the Mirror reality.  The first warning was in "Dr. Linus" when Mirror Roger wondered how different their lives would have been if they'd stayed on the Island.  Those don't sound like the sentiments of a father whose son was shot and kidnapped by the '77ers.  Indeed, Roger's wistful words suggest he didn't even realize the Island had sunk to the bottom of the sea.  Thus far, not one character in the Mirror reality seems to remember our Losties' traveling back in time from the Crash reality to cause the Incident.

The wild cards in this analysis are Charles and Eloise.  The former seemed blissfully ignorant in "Happily Ever After."  As I mentioned in my recap of "Recon," however, the possibility remains that he sent Charlotte to spy on James.  If so, Mirror Charles may indeed recall encountering Crash Sawyer on the Island.  It's also possible that Mirror Eloise remembers killing Crash Daniel.  She may have a copy of his journal and suspect his death is linked with Desmond in the Crash reality.  Perhaps she intervened to save Daniel's Mirror counterpart from a similarly grim fate.  I'm frankly skeptical this is the case, but I haven't abandoned all hope for a consistent Mirror timeline.  Hence the dual sickness scores in quantum superposition.

Is Eloise worried Mirror Daniel will follow the path of his Crash Counterpart?

I just have to show them something.  Many believe that Desmond will now be a catalyst for merger of the two realities into a third.  But I think his mission is less ambitious than that.  He must make contact with the same key players in both realities simultaneously, triggering cross-over events like those experienced by Charlie, Daniel, and Des himself.  This may involve more near death experiences, which propel them "between places" as Charlotte Malkin put it.  In some cases, however, it may be as simple as reminding them of someone they love.  The goal of these cross-overs will be to show our Losties that  they can live a new life in the Mirror reality even if they sacrifice themselves for Jacob's plan in the Crash universe. 

That's why Desmond is so abruptly sanguine about dying.  As the title of the episode suggests, his job is to show them how to live happily ever after.  And while there's nothing wrong with that in principle, it still strikes me as a bit of a cop out.  I used to think Damon shared my sentiments.  Prior to publication of the last Harry Potter book, he wrote a great New York Times op-ed arguing that "Harry has to die."  Damon's logic is as persuasive now as it was then: "Because it will be tragic. And emotional. And surprising. But most of all ... it will be fair."  That same logic, moreover, applies with equal force to LOST.  Allowing characters to cheat death by crossing over to the Mirror reality seems like... well, cheating.

When do we get started?

They're trying to have their cake and eat it too, an outcome I can stand for maybe one or two characters at most.  Without spoiling too much, Stephen King handled this well in the Dark Tower with his door to "happiness," as I think I've mentioned previously.  But please, no mass resurrection of the entire cast in the Mirror reality via consciousness transfer.  My apologies to you all everybody for being this week's turd in the punch bowl.  Over to you, Wayne...

 * * *

WAYNE: I give this a 9 on the Sickness Scale, 5 for mythology and 4 for characterization.

I suspect that many of us realized and expected that wild card Desmond would be the conduit between the Mirror and the Crash realities once we saw Charles Widmore set up camp on Hydra Island. I knew Desmond would be the (fail-safe) key back in "LA X." But I have to admit that I'm intrigued at the possibilities for the resolution of LOST that this episode offered. For an episode that brought more questions than answers, I am actually quite pleased. I've heard that Damon Lindelof twittered that the conversation would change after "Happily Ever After," while Carlton Cuse promised a new chapter in the story. Well, for the first time this season (and never mind my views about Twitter), I am now absolutely looking forward to next week's episode.  

The Flash of Two Worlds. DC Comics first explained the concept that would one day be called the multiverse in The Flash#123, back in 1961. In this issue, we get the full explanation on why there were no metahumans active during World War II. Pared down, Barry Allen was the Flash on Earth-1, and he encountered Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-2, after changing his body's vibrational frequencies to appear invisible at a childrens' charity event. In future meetings, a device called the Cosmic Treadmill was created as a bridge between realities.  Widmore's device of toroidal coils (which create a closed magnetic path with self-shielding loops that alternate between alignment with lines of latitude and the direction of the Earth's magnetic poles) reminded me of the contraption that The Flash used.  The difference was that Desmond didn't have to pump his leg muscles to get to the other reality. Or did he?

Rabbit, run. The shack where Desmond was brought against his will, with its wooden floor and lone chair, reminded me of Jacob's cabin.  I also thought of Locke's tribalistic sweat lodge from S3's "Further Instructions," because of Locke's self-induced vision quest. This was in the aftermath of the Hatch's implosion, in which Desmond survived an electromagnetic event by turning the fail-safe key.  Widmore seems to know all about that event because he hopes to duplicate it. Widmore pressed Zoe to get the coils up and running ahead of schedule, and we again get the impression that the guys in DHARMA security could have handled this job better after snarfing down those marijuana-laced brownies back in 1974. Frick goes out to check on a glitch, Frack realizes a switch was simply stuck, Frick gets fried. The first intended test subject was a white rabbit named Angstrom.

John Updike wrote a series of novels centering around Harold C. "Rabbit" Angstrom, a man whose character evolves through forces of circumstance, though he does not seem to be able to accomplish anything extraordinary. That sums up Desmond Hume as he was shuffled about with the help of Eloise Hawking, eventually entering the boat race -- which drew him to the Island -- to impress Charles Widmore, to prove that he had potential worth. Updike explained that he did not base the name "Angstrom" on the metric unit used to measure electromagnetic radiation.  Rather, he took it from the word "angst," which is Dutch for dread or anxiety. The author learned of this word in the writings of the existentialist Soren Kierkegaard, who was, of course, on the reading list of French science team's book club.

Rabbit hole, redux. After breaking free of the chair as the coils generate winds in another scene reminiscent of the the cabin, Desmond finds himself at Mirror LAX, checking for baggage arrivals. (Hmmm. Who arrived in the Mirror reality before he did, and what sort of emotional baggage do they already carry?) He's working for Widmore in a more passive capacity than Mirror Jin does for Paik.  Desmond's job somewhat resemble Mirror Sayid's -- he travels around and makes comfortable amounts of money, and perhaps it is only coincidence that these three men are currently on Hydra and not the main Island. Updike's sequel to Rabbit Run was Rabbit, Redux, and in this episode, Charlie becomes the rabbit to Desmond's Alice, first swerving Desmond's car into the harbor and later having Desmond chase him down the stairwell at St. Sebastian's Hospital. In each case, Desmond gets a flash to the Crash-reality, the first being what might prove to be the eeriest moment of the season. A submerged Charlie, blank palm to the car's window, with Des's flash showing the phrase "Not Penny's Boat," which heralded the end of the first half of LOST. 

Ominous words, right up there with Crash reality Widmore's "The Island isn't done with you yet." and Mirror reality Eloise's admonition that "You're not ready [to meet Penny] yet." On the plus side, George the chauffeur, in a ridiculously long tie, offered to procure some women for Desmond, who politely declined. When Desmond grabbed Charlie in the stairwell, the latter tells Des that they were sharing a moment, that Des was getting that Crash-reality vibe, just as Charlie did when he envisioned Claire while unexpectedly choking on his heroin stash in the Oceanic lavatory. Desmond was supposed to deliver Charlie to Eloise, as her son wanted to try fusing classical music with DriveShaft's rock. Eloise is first seen telling a waiter the proper way to line up a butter knife, and I thought of this as the most rudimentary version of course-correction: straightening out a mistake that almost everybody might completely not notice at all. Des explains to Eloise, who dismisses the news with the familiar lines "Whatever happened, happened." She didn't need the details, but I'm certain that she knew full well that Charlie provided the proper images and lines to get Desmond thinking.

Eloise, Protector of the Multiverse. I do believe that there are an infinite number of fractal realities, including the Meta version we were given in "Happily Ever  After." In the Meta reality, there's no Island, "Charlie Pace" is currently on Flashforward and "Kate Austen is appearing in commercials for L'oreal. Or Revlon. Or Calgon, I forget. So, whereas we don't have to worry about Eloise Hawking telling us what to do, there's an infinite number of the creepy, white haired, old bat. What happened was that the detonation of Jughead opened up the Mirror reality, because Lost has only concerned itself with the concept of twinning, for the most part. And, just as she protects her respective realities, she keeps Desmond on his leash, again keeping him from meeting Penny, just as she made him drive Penny away in "Flashes Before Your Eyes." The other realities are still there, they are simply not a concern. All we need are the equivalent of Earth-1 and Earth-2.

Daniel "not Faraday" Widmore has a talk with Desmond about his half-sister, Penny "not Widmore" Milton. But first he goes on about chocolate-loving Charlotte, and how he wrote these crazy equations that a friend at CalTech explained in terms that basically describe the Incident. Dan has this crazy thought that he has already caused such an explosion. His Crash-reality memory kicked in after seeing his lost love, and I'm wondering if there's this strange trinity of Desmond, Daniel, and half-sis Penny. (Makes you wonder what Crash-memory might have clicked when Det. Ford grabbed Kate or with the possibility of Dr. Linus spotting Juliet.) Also, it is intriguing that the only Mirror-reality character who has a relationship of any kind is John Locke, the one person in the pre-Crash reality truly alone. (Even Boone had Shannon. Eww? What of it?)

A lot can happen in twenty minutes. After shaking hands with Penny, Desmond wakes up on Crash-reality Hydra. Zoe asks why he has become so cooperative considering he was bashing Widmore with his IV cart just a short while back. Desmond explains that a lot can happen in twenty minutes. Just then, Sayid kills two of Widmore's men and tells Zoe to run. She does, and Desmond follows Sayid.  There's one good reason for Desmond's actions. In one final cut to the Mirror reality, he asks George for favor. All through the episode, Desmond was denied lists: the patient list at the hospital, the guest list at Eloise's party. What he asks for in the Mirror reality is the flight manifest for Oceanic 815. The Man in Black will be tricked into entering Widmore's gizmo, effectively trapping him in a science-version of Jacob's cabin. But what does it mean in the Mirror reality that Desmond meets Penny much too soon? (I'm guessing three years, the time difference between the two realities.) Twice now, Widmore's group have altered their time schedule, snagging Jin and sending Desmond on his mind-trip. Both times, things went OK, aside from Frick getting fried.

And this is why the episode pleased me so much. I expect Desmond to tell the main group about the other reality, which might make Richard recall seeing everyone die in 1977. As I said above, this is the first time this season I am absolutely looking forward to the next episode.

Game on.
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