The Constant

Only writers as brilliant as those behind “LOST” could give us an hour of television like this. No other episode has gone as far as “The Constant” in giving us a look at some fundamental theories behind the series, and yet at the same time pack an emotional wallop that reminds us that it’s the characters, not the mysteries, that are at the heart of the show. The truly mind-bending realizations Desmond has as his consciousness jumps between 1996 and 2004 will probably give us weeks of material to dissect and analyze. But, honestly, all I wanted to do was watch that final phone call between him and Penny over and over again.

So “The Constant” took us unabashedly into the realm of time travel, but not really. While Desmond and Daniel struggled to carry information across a span of eight years, the writers leave themselves enough slack so that we’re still not entirely sure what’s happening. Oxford Daniel thought Desmond’s arrival was a joke because of “the paradox” — the Achilles’ heel of time travel stories that has vexed everyone from Doc Brown to Hiro Nakamura. By acknowledging it (and giving us all a headache), “LOST” has almost weaseled around it. Add in the notion of consciousness moving through spacetime (your brain apparently checking out on one side when busy on the other), and…

Well, frankly, I don’t know what it means. Yet. But man, I love it.

And Jen reminds me of “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” and Desmond’s conversations with Ms. Hawking about the future course correcting, and about being able or unable to effect change. I think we’ll have to watch that episode again, and this latest one a few more times, to get anywhere near an answer.

Why Desmond? Daniel keys on electromagnetism, which of course recalls Desmond’s survival of the hatch implosion. We also see George was being suffering the same “side effects,” after a disastrous attempt to get near the island with his shipmate Brandon. (Brandon, notably, went nuts and ended up dead… like Rousseau’s crew.) Now, Locke was also in the hatch when it blew, which makes me wonder if he’s having visions, or just going bonkers. And Charlie was there, too. Could that be how he could be in Hurley’s future, but not? Does that mean Eko could make another appearance?

But speaking of “side effect” sufferers… I was so busy blubbering over the phone call that I almost missed the last scene with Daniel, where he checks his notebook and finds his note from the past: “If anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume is my constant.” Suddenly it’s suggested that Daniel himself has been doing a bit of flashing back and forth. So maybe that’s why Daniel was so upset by the TV news reports of the Oceanic 815 wreckage in “Confirmed Dead.” Was he was remembering Desmond’s visit years before. And maybe the reason he’s having trouble remembering just three playing cards is because he’s been around the block a few too many times?

Daniel also expressly states that the discrepancy could be a few minutes (like the rocket test) or years, which opens up a whole world of possibilities if we’re going to see characters make the trip off the island.

Leaving aside time anomalies, though, there were still some solid “real world” clues tonight. It was good to see Mr. Widmore again, and a bit curious to see him presented as almost sympathetic to Desmond. But lo and behold, he’s at an auction for the journal of the first mate aboard the Black Rock! And the seller, one Tovard Hanso. What information could they want from a ship lost on March 22, 1845 off Madagascar. A ship we know is sitting in the forest on the island? And mixed in with Desmond and Penny’s declaration of love, we get confirmation that Penny knows about the island, and that — just like at the end of Season 2 — she’s not going to give up trying to find it.

  • It was great to get a solid date out of this episode. It’s Dec. 24, 2004. Of course, that detail will get all the “Tsunami!” fans excited. It means we’re two days away from the Indonesian quake that could possibly shake things up on the island.
  • When Daniel asked Jack if Desmond had been exposed to radiation or electromagnetism, Jack just shrugs. Did he really not have any idea about what happened to The Swan Station? I guess he was on a pier on the other side of the island at the time…
  • Who opened the sickbay door for Desmond, Sayid, and George? George says Desmond and Sayid have a friend on the boat. Likely guess: Michael. Unlikely guess: Alternative universe George.
  • Jen got quite a thrill out of seeing Roy, a.k.a. Mark Vann, a.k.a. “Ecklie” on “C.S.I.” It was also good to see Fisher Stevens, finally. Hope he’s not dead dead.
  • The next item up for bid after the Black Rock journal? Something related to Charles Dickens.
  • Numerologists will have a field day with this episode. The device had to be set to 2.342, at 11 hertz. Mr. Widmore was bidder 755. Desmond’s 75 minute trip at Oxford felt like 5 minutes in 2004. Penny’s phone number. Penny’s house number. Basically, I lost track of all the numbers. Never mind if they had any connection to The Numbers. Anyone?
  • Locations: St. Andrew’s Cathedral near downtown Honolulu played Oxford. An old military facility on the slopes of Diamond Head was Camp Millar (Royal Scot’s Regiment).

What did you think about the episode? Comment below or call the LostLine at (808) 356-0127. You can also record an audio comment and e-mail it to us at lost@hawaiiup.com. Thanks!

70 Responses to “The Constant”

  1. MJ says:

    I think the concept is ‘your mind’ shifts to the past, but your body is always in the present. So when you cannot choice to go back, but can affect what someone does in the past. Then you shift to the present and find your constant. Shift stops.

    Jen and Ryan, you talked about being disappointed that the writers did not give Claire her ‘grieving’ scenes. This was weird. They have not given her much to do in this show except hold on to Aaron and whine. I thought, with the exception of Hurley, everyone would be very upset about Charlie’s demise. Not even a moment of silence. They made a big thing out of every death in Season 1, 2.

  2. Bryan says:

    Dave wrote:

    ” If time travel (either physical or mental) becomes a part of it, I think the show could potentially veer in a very different direction and lost some of its brilliance.”

    The thing is Dave, that this has been the plot of the show all along. If you didn’t get that from seeing Flashes Before Your Eyes” last season then this probably was a shock to you.

    Yes the grounded in reality factor is a great part of Lost but seriously, smoke monster, four toed statue, ghost of Jacob, Jack’s father’s ghost, Kates black horse…

    Should I continue?

  3. Bigebee says:

    We just watched the epoisode again (first time we’ve done this) and going back to the phone conversation with Desmond and Penny, what really ties in all the emotion is the score in the background…the sound of what could be a simple string instrument. Absolutely beautiful. Also, the moment we know Desmond is saved when he makes the call and Penny answers and it flashes back to Desmond walking across the street and then you see his smile come over his face…brilliant!

    Question, could things in Daniel’s book change over time? The last scene where it said Desmond was his constant, Daniel looked as if he’d never seen that before.

  4. Tyler says:

    Desmond seeing the rat die and knowing that he might too reminded me of “Flowers for Algernon”. Anyone else notice that?

  5. Lula Obarrio says:

    Daniel: You can t change the future
    Des. What s that for?
    Dan: Radiations
    Des; Do I get one?
    Dan: You don t need one. For prolonged exposure, I do this 20 times a day
    Des: So what s upon your head?
    Dan with a dazzled face: Yeah…

  6. stevec says:

    A previous reader mentioned that why don’t radio waves shift…not sure but I believe, as we just discovered, has to do with, quantum physics….not an expert but all energy sends out radio resonance(including humans, animals…but very small).Large amounts are needed to time travel for a human to move…through time…not realistic at this time…that’s why we have lost! It science fun…there’s a video on you tube regarding the blast door and there is a couple of physics equations there…haven’t got a clue…just to pick it out from the others it’s 8 minutes long.
    The above comment from lula could explain Daniel’s fried memory.

  7. mindstage says:

    Agreed. A good show will interest fans, a great show obssesses them. Lost is the best television ever created.
    A few points to ponder:
    1) When Desmond met Daniel at Oxford, he asked him why he didn’t wear any radiation protection on his head. This would be his required “high level of exposure” which induces the time travel flashes, correct?
    2) Could the ‘original inhabitants of the island’ who threatened and eventually wiped out the Dharma project (with Ben’s help) perhaps be the crew of the Black Rock? They never seem to age, and when Ben first meets them in the jungle, their dingy clothing and appearance is not unlike that of sailors from the 1800s.
    3) Did anyone notice that the Black Rock diary appeared to be in remarkably good shape for being 100+ years old? And am I mistaken, or did it say “Ledger” on the spine?
    4) Why did Penny’s dad leave the water running in the sink?
    5) Where are the other half of Ben’s group, whom he sent to “The Temple” during their attempt to intercept Jack and the Losties at the end of season 3?
    6) If someone you were crazy in love with mysteriously showed up on your doorstep told you they were going to call you on Christmas Eve in 8 years, would you let the phone ring 18 times before picking it up?

    Thanks Ryan and Jen for a great podcast!

  8. stevec says:

    Nice pod cast you guys…I’m not of the tsunami school…I’m sticking with the electromagnetism thing..all the numbers..could they help solve any physics equations?…..too much for this guy….Mindstage I agree on your comments..will we hear more about Richard from the Black Roc, Ben’s “other’ friend? I think Desmond had turned on the water and he went out. I like the idea of reviewing “Flashes Before Your Eyes”.

  9. Dave says:

    Bryan, you may have misunderstood (or misremembered a la Roger Clemens) my argument.

    ‘The thing is Dave, that this has been the plot of the show all along. If you didn’t get that from seeing Flashes Before Your Eyes” last season then this probably was a shock to you.
    ‘Yes the grounded in reality factor is a great part of Lost but seriously, smoke monster, four toed statue, ghost of Jacob, Jack’s father’s ghost, Kates black horse…
    ‘Should I continue?’

    My point is that the island itself is not part of reality. This is fairly obvious and the conceit of the show. But if you now start introducing the notion that various different characters and move their consciousness forward and backward in space and time — including OFF the island — that’s no longer a slight conceit. That now opens the story up for anything happening. So, for example, Daniel could go back in time and prevent anyone from getting on the plane in the first place, and undoing the first three seasons of the show. That’s a cop out. If you have a character who has premonitions — psychic ability — that’s plausible, though I personally don’t believe in it. (Des is not the only character to have this in the series. The supernatural does not defy the laws of physcis.) But time travel/the ability to communicate with your past and future selves not only would be a total cop out for the narrative of the show, it would also be nearly impossible to tell in a standard linear narrative style.

    “Flashes Before Your Eyes” was actually in several ways antithetical to this episode. The old woman in the jewelry store mentioned to Desmond that the universe has a way of “course correcting.” But what Desmond did this episode was not let the universe course correct but rather to alter the fundamental theories of time and space as if he were a god and change the future by altering the past. That’s not course correcting (e.g. fate vs coincidence), that is supposing that one individual can be able to edit their past. But if everyone can do that, you now have an infinite number of simultaneous possibilities to the point that time would never move forward, because anyone could go back and change the past so the present never happened.

    THAT’s why I don’t like the concept. Fascinating, but it gives me a headache.

    (And why can’t someone just build a four toed foot? Someone built a troll under a bridge in a suburb of Seattle just for the heck of it! Visual hallucinations — a la Hurley — are totally reasonable. I also don’t think anyone other than Jack saw his father or other than Kate saw the horse… but I may be misremembering. 🙂 )

    Bigebee, I do like the notion that Daniel’s radiation exposure would make him able to alter his consciousness from point to point and that he could have made the note for himself of Desmond being his constant in the future. I have no idea how that could show that on television 😉 but it’s fun (in the dizzying way above) to think about.

    I’d submit that Desmond didn’t remember Daniel when he met him on the island because it hadn’t happened yet in the past. (Yet again, the whole show would be VERY confusing if everyone can do this.)

  10. Dave says:

    Regarding Penny and the boat:
    Penny told Charlie she did not know Naomi.
    George Mientkowski told Sayid and Desmond that Penny kept calling the boat.
    So Penny didn’t know Naomi and her crew (and presumably Matthew Abaddon who may or may not be an employee of Oceanic) but could have contacted the boat.

    When Penny spoke to Charlie he told her he was a survivor of Oceanic 815. Naomi and her crew seem to be there not because of 815, but to get Ben. Up until Penny’s contact with Charlie, she wouldn’t have known about (nor had any interest in) either of them, just Desmond.

    My suspicion is that when the Swan imploded/exploded/whatever-ploded, Penny’s people noticed. They called her (which we saw at the end of season 2) and she went looking. She in all likelihood was just trying to communicate with anyone in the region, which she did. And it might just be fate (or coincidence) that her father might be connected to the tanker (and interested in the Black Rock).

  11. Connie in Alaska says:

    I am still not 100% convinced about that calendar in the communications room on the boat. Another thought that occured to me is that the calendar is there for the Freighties to keep track of what day it is on the Island so that when they are communicating they don’t slip up and make a reference to a future event or date. The yellow x’s may refer to a specific event or time span on the Island…the day the hatch blew up?…the day Michael and Walt arrived?…who knows? I know this doesn’t explain how it’s Christmas where Penny is AND on Island time…hmm.

    Another thought I had was that if they do include the tsunami in the story line, maybe that is how some of the Losties die, including Clair, and why Kate has Aaron.

  12. Avery says:

    Just listened to your podcast….love it! With regards to Penny’s calls, I was under the impression she hired the men in the submarine that were in the antartica or somewhere. Wasn’t there a call being placed as that episode was ending?????

  13. Dave says:

    Harkening back to “Eggtown”… I recently watched the official ABC video podcast. They more or less confirmed that Kate has Aaron, Claire’s baby.

  14. Keekers says:

    Wow.

  15. Bryan says:

    Dave,

    I hear what you are saying but I don’t think it applies only because people cannot go back in time and alter the past or future unless they are aware they can do so. I think that there are characters who are just becoming aware of this and therefore I don’t think we will see that sort of story arc. Besides, I think the whole concept of time travel could be a “jump the shark” moment for this show if it weren’t for the fact that they are clearly referring to the consciousness, not the body. I think this is where Lost differentiates itself from other ‘time travel’ stories. And so far we aren’t really seeing a lot of tinkering with the past of future. Then again, we might find that this whole thing is a RESULT of someone tinkering and I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing.

    I trust the writers of this show to be able to handle this subject with the intelligence they have thus far.

    and yes I’ve see the troll under the bridge. Pretty cool.

  16. Connie in Alaska says:

    OK…after listening the Official Lost Podcast with Darlton and Cusalof I am ready to concede that they are actually in 2004…rats!

    They also very emphatically said that they are anti-paradox when it comes to consciousness shifting and that nothing we have seen so far on the island, in flashbacks or flashforwards will be affected by someone else’s actions when they are time travelling.

    Unless iTunes has fixed the link, you can’t download the Official podcast at this time from iTunes. I had to go to abc.com

  17. Dave says:

    Connie in AK — if you use a browser like Firefox (or if you have Quicktime Pro) you can download the podcast via ABC.com. It just won’t plug into iTunes.

    I also listened to the podcast this am and they back of Bryan on the issue of consciousness travel. However, their “anti-paradox” stance makes me wonder. Desmond travelled back in time (mentally, not physically) and gave Daniel the numbers he needed to make his experiment work. Maybe Daniel would have eventually deduced them (I guess we can presume he did, since he told Des what to tell him), but wouldn’t you think if he was told these answers sooner it would affect the trajectory of his career and thus his life? Wouldn’t it perhaps minimize his radiation exposure, if we think that might be a budding story arc? Daniel may have essentially helped himself “cheat” via Desmond.

    More to the point, if Des doesn’t go back in consciousness, he doesn’t see Mr Widmore, doesn’t get Penelope’s address, doesn’t get her phone number, and can’t call her on Christmas Eve. So his actions is the past *do* affect his actions in the future. You can’t tell me the universe “course-corrected” and he just would have remembered numbers he otherwise wouldn’t have known.

    So I think that there is a paradox at play here. Still love the show, but I’m not keen on these fudge factors. I am very willing to continue to suspend disbelief though. 😉

  18. Connie in Alaska says:

    Dave: Those are some very good points and I agree that so far Cuse and Lindelof have been playing fast and loose with some of their statements. For instance, they did, after all, say that time travel was not the big secret…well, yeah, it kind of is and kind of isn’t.

    I think their main point about being anti-paradox it that conciousness shifting will not change events that we have alread seen as fact: no one will go back to prevent the plane crash, no one will go back to tell Hurley not to play the numbers, no one will go back to yank Locke back away from the window before he is pushed. There are quite a few events and mysteries that are probably fair game for messing with: Jack’s dad…dead? alive? where is his body?, Jacob’s cabin, Ben’s tricks and who is in the coffin.

  19. tvscif says:

    This whole “time-correcting” itself bugs me. If they can’t change their future then where is free will? And what are the bad guys up to, if it isn’t messing with the time-line? I think ultimately, Ben is trying to correct the time-line the rich and powerful bad guys have been bending to their will.

    But, I hope the producers come up with a good explanation for Ms. Hawking and the smoke monster, and all the coincidences that go beyond time self-correcting “itself” or this could turn into a episode of “Carivore” 😉

    http://www.tvscifi.com/content/view/13/35/

  20. Vertigo says:

    I finally got around to listening to your podcast for the episode titled “The Constant”. I heard a lot of ideas about how the explanation of the time anomalies can explain some of the things that we wondered about in the past (the Black Rock, Yemi’s plane, etc). I am wondering about some other possible linkages for this and one big one came to mind – Richard Alpert. What if his appearance to Ben in the forest when Ben was a boy was an example of either Alpert or Ben’s consciousness being in the past when that conversation tool place.

    It is a long shot and I am not sure this time shifting is as common with other characters, but it will be interesting to see what else it is connected to.

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