‘Please don’t give up, Des. Because all we really need to survive is one person who truly loves us.’ – Letter from Penny Widmore to Desmond Hume
For the first time in Season 6 we spent a sustained period in the Alternate Timeline courtesy of that temporal wildcard, Desmond. Consequently we learned much of what the very nature of this Alt-Timeline is and, surely, received verification that the Island Timeline is the dominant one, the ‘true’ reality, and the foundations of the show’s resolution seems to have its way paved in front of us.
The now-standard mirror-reflection moment in this episode showed Desmond caught walking towards a door. He was wearing sunglasses, but in the reflection he removed them. Pretty rudimentary symbolism here; the blinkered, lonely soul of Alt-Desmond suddenly seeing clearly, a new awareness presented to him. And it took Charlie, a near-death experience, and a mind-altering blasting taste of love to get him there.
Probably the one big ‘whoa’ moment of the episode came courtesy of Charlie planting his hand against the glass in the submerged car and triggering that iconic image ‘memory’ for Desmond:
Here was a moment of true awakening. Jack and Sun, arguably, have had moments where they became dimly aware of their ‘other’ reality, but this was the clinch point. The best way I can think of it is almost as though this whole Alternate Timeline is a vast dream, collectively shared by everyone. Desmond, in this instant, had his dreamworld punctured very briefly by flashes of the reality he really ought to be in.
The idea that the Island Timeline is the Prime Timeline isn’t exactly a clear-cut one, mind. Consider Minkowski.
I liked how he offered Desmond free run of his contacts in the city, and how Desmond turned them down. Minkowski’s remark about how this was why Desmond was the main man married events in the Island Timeline. Both Desmond and Minkowski had their consciousness hurled back and forth through time – it was only Desmond that managed to find his Constant to save himself. Desmond was the main man and Minkowski a poor proxy.
If Desmond were to have convinced Minkowski that this world wasn’t the world he was supposed to be in, that the universe to have taken priority was one where he would wind up on a Freighter in the middle of the ocean, strapped to a bed whilst his mind short-circuited, do you think Minkowski would have been thrilled by that? Seems unlikely. So whilst I have stated that the Island Timeline seems to be the prime timeline (and I do believe it is), it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be the promised land for everyone.
Charlie, for one.
With his talk of this blonde woman that he felt such overpowering love for, we can be sure he was talking about Claire (personally I believe this interpretation of Charlie’s feelings for Claire doesn’t quite match with the relationship we saw them have on the Island). Now what if he knew that Claire was in town, in L.A.? That he could find her, meet with her, and maybe make that romance real? You tell him he can trade his Alt-Timeline existence (with, admittedly, a suicidal disposition) for one where, on the Island, he gets this love but makes the ultimate sacrifice for it, would he make that trade? Maybe. It would seem he'd rather die than exist in the Alternate Timeline, so what difference does dying in the Island Timeline make?
But by the end of the episode Desmond, with help from Minkowski who can amazingly get his hands on the Oceanic 815 manifest (!), plans on gathering everyone together to, I believe, awaken their consciousness’ to the existence of both timelines.
Again, not sure how thrilled this guy would be about what his ‘other life’ had in store. . .
Maybe, like Charlie, he'd rather be dead, to be released from his miserable Alternate Timeline existence. The fundamental question being posed is where would our characters find their ‘happily ever after’? Is it in the Island Timeline? Or is it in the Alternate Timeline? I’m still leaning towards it being the Island Timeline (purely because that’s the one we’ve invested most of our interest, and where the battle lines for Jacob and Nameless are marked out). And we mustn’t forget that death seemingly isn’t quite the end on Lost; whether it’s from Miles communicating, Hurley seeing and interacting, whispers or visions – the dead have a presence, and maybe, like Charlie, once sampled it’s a taste of paradise.
Daniel Faraday was also on hand to talk about how this Alternate Timeline, from the quantum mathematics he had conjured despite himself, was surely one that was a product of some terrible event committed elsewhere, elsewhen.
It was interesting that Faraday was a musician in the Alternate Timeline. And also still had his father, Charles Widmore, in his life. I’ll get to Charles and Eloise shortly, but I wanted to spare a moment to consider the facet of the Alt-Timeline that has more often than not showed our characters gaining the kind of life that seems more like a ‘happily ever after’ than the one they forged on the Island.
Faraday, evidently, was steered away from science and allowed to pursue his interest and enjoyment in music. Jack had managed to become a father-figure more adept than his own father. Locke had managed to subdue his rage and find happiness with Helen.
It’s been tempting to consider the Alternate Timeline as an ideal outcome, a what should have been. Yet consider Charlie. His band Driveshaft are evidently more of the success he hoped for (note his clean brother, still in the band, popped up in a previous episode asking after him – the importance of that now making more sense).
Charlie wasn’t a washed-up junkie rock star. He was just a junkie rock star! A slight improvement. . . But his near-death taste of love from the Island Timeline convinced him it wasn’t what he wanted. Daniel, too, had figured his alternate self of complex maths had provoked this inferior timeline, and his ‘real’ timeline was what he has lost, not been averted from. And Desmond himself, apparently so happy to be travelling the world, free and single, only had to chance upon the name Penny to sample a force way more intoxicating and alluring than this life he had in the Alt-Timeline.
Again, it makes me fall back on the idea that this Alternate Timeline may, on the surface, appear ‘better’ but it is fundamentally not as good as the real thing. I’ve said it previously, but it’s like a watered-down version of the full life experience the Island afforded. The bigger question: Is this apparent fulfilment our characters are reaching in the Alt-Timeline merely chance, or design? On this I am not so clear.
My initial take, for example, was to assume that there was no design. Take Charles Widmore and his behaviour towards Desmond. In the Alternate Timeline he embraced him with care, deigned to share a glass of his prestigious whisky. We hear that all Desmond wanted was to earn the respect of Charles Widmore in the Island Timeline and here, in the Alternate world, he had managed it.
My initial interpretation was, as stated, not to see design in this. Just one of those ironic things. Desmond believed he had all he wanted, but that was before he met Penny. But then I thought of Widmore’s encouragement and respect for Desmond at maintaining his single life. And how quickly he turned when Desmond failed to rein Charlie in and get him to Eloise’s function. For a man that showed such care he didn’t seem overly-concerned with how Desmond felt after surviving a car crash plunging into deep water.
Dare I say it, but was it possible that Widmore in this timeline was manipulating Desmond into not finding this blast of love, this Constant, Penny? That he was playing the role of caring figure to provide what Desmond thought he wanted as a sidetrack to what would wake him up?
(Aside: Note that Penny's surname (somehow!) was Milton in this Timeline. Not going to labour the reference, but it was surely a nod to Milton, writer of Paradise Lost. Again, the message I am getting here is that the Alternate Timeline is the less-perfect version of the world.)
Eloise Hawking – sorry, Eloise Widmore here. . .
. . . was even more blatant than Charles. The moment she turned to look at Desmond for the ‘first’ time there was a widening of her eyes in recognition, and her remarks about how it was a shame they hadn’t met earlier didn’t seem genuine. And then she turned. When Desmond enquired about Penny the façade dropped and Eloise Hawking emerged, demanding that Desmond stop travelling down whatever new road he was forging because he wasn’t ready.
Given the likes of Desmond, Charlie and Daniel have all tapped into becoming consciously aware, on whatever level, of this ‘other world’ then it’s not impossible to surmise that Eloise holds the same awareness. (Indeed, this may be the very nature of her power of knowing the future, and her active interest in making Desmond ‘push the button’ in Flashes Before Your Eyes.)
In Widmore’s office there was a picture of black and white scales:
Does this indicate that Widmore actively wants to maintain the balance in this Alternate Timeline? Or the Island one? It ought to be remembered that Widmore and Eloise in the Alternate Timeline were the same people we saw together on the Island so perhaps the black and white scales picture is merely a throwback, a momento, of that time. The time when they were The Others and served the will of Jacob to maintain the Island’s integrity.
I’m not overly-keen on Alt-Widmore possessing the same dual awareness that Eloise probably possesses, but it’s a maybe. What may make sense is that Eloise, remaining married to Widmore, has manipulated and shaped him into the kind of man that would embrace Desmond so warmly (his remarks about how fearsome Desmond may find Eloise would suggest he’s been on the end of her sharp tongue enough to know she’s not to be trifled with). And Eloise herself, of course, was responsible for the death of her son in the Island Timeline and here, in the Alternate Timeline, she got to raise him with love and indulgence for his music and keep him safe, so she has motive for wanting this timeline to sustain.
I, however, don’t imagine it will sustain. The endgame resides on the Island. One very pertinent point is that the creators didn’t have this Alternate Timeline in mind when the show was conceived, and so whatever end they have planned will surely play out on the Island.
On the Island, Widmore is refreshingly free and open with his intentions and information to the likes of Jin. Is he genuine, or is this a manipulation? I’m going with him being genuine. He’s honest enough to inform Desmond that he needs him, and that it will involve a sacrifice. Even the little detail of Widmore pulling back the sheet to view the poor soul that got electro-fried suggested a level of care behind that stern demeanour.
What sacrifice for Desmond? I can only think of three things that matter enough that Desmond could sacrifice: Penny, baby Charlie, or Desmond’s life. The intention of Widmore would seem to be one of marching Desmond out to one of the Island’s electromagnetic hotspots (as identified by Jin on the map created by Zoe) to expose him to more massive electromagnetism – maybe creating another ‘incident’, one that erases the Alternate Timeline?
Why would that matter? Well, as previously suggested, the Alternate Timeline does seem to be one that fuels the desires of the Losties. Nameless is very much in the market of dangling the idea of escape and wish-fulfilment over people – maybe it’s the erasure of the Island Timeline and rebirth in the Alternate Timeline that he is intending. Maybe his plan to gather the Candidates together is similar to Desmond’s plan to gather the Oceanic passengers via the manifest: so he can show them a promised land. Only when Nameless shows people their ‘other lives’, I would imagine he’ll omit anything bad and forgo the sense of it being a lesser version of what they should be.
When Nameless says he wants to escape the Island, maybe he doesn’t mean physically leave rather he intends to literally wipe out the Island Timeline to render the Island at the bottom of the ocean. . .
. . . into an Alternate Timeline where Jacob has no influence and, presumably, one where Nameless is granted the freedom to go ‘home’ like he so seeks. Again, we can’t equate Nameless’ desire to leave as to be just to go out into the regular world. His ‘home’ may be release from immortal bondage to the Island. Tying this up with Widmore’s previous remarks about how allowing Nameless to leave would mean everyone and everything would cease to be makes this notion feel pretty accurate. In short: If Nameless leaves the Island Timeline will be wiped clear and the Alternate Timeline will become the actual one and only timeline. That’s the bad ending – the one Widmore, and probably Jacob, are seeking to avoid.
By the end of the episode Desmond is in a strange duality, seemingly aware in both timelines of the ‘other side’. He willingly goes along with Sayid, perhaps with the same intention he has in the Alternate Timeline – so he can get to the Oceanic 815 people, gather them all together, and make them aware.
His pacified manner, his new-found acceptance, possesses something of the messianic. I believe he will gather the Oceanic 815 passengers in the Alternate Timeline and tell them, There’s a better reality than this where you really belong. In the Island Timeline he’ll tell people, This is where you’re supposed to be. And the sacrifice for this, that I suspect he knows already, will be the end of him in both timelines. For the sake of Penny and baby Charlie, he’ll sacrifice himself to maintain the Island Timeline. Or maybe he smiles because he knows that he’ll survive – because like Penny said, all he really needs to survive is one person who truly loves him.
After that, there’s just one slot left open: Jacob’s replacement. To maintain balance on the Island, to continue the black and white equilibrium in the Island Timeline. Our Candidates are all still in play and the stakes are as high as you can imagine.