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Lost Recap: Unpacking the Package

Okay, I'm on record against the madcap parade of soul mates on this show. HOWEVER! When the entire show becomes a super-cool, crazed, slightly mechanistic, semi-musical meditation on soul mate–itude, well, that's just freaking awesome.

Oh, Lost, you cruel mistress. Suddenly, I'm seduced, at least in this Smokey-free environment, by an episode that amounted to a perverse riff on Up In the Air. (A movie which apparently would have been vastly improved by the presence of electromagnetism.)

Even Charlie — a character I thought became somewhat syrupy in his later seasons — had a nice junkie edge to him.

It also moved things forward, in very weird ways: For one thing, it confirmed that the bomb created the flash sideways. Sure, it endorsed a stalker's philosophy: "I spotted her in the airplane, across the museum, after almost getting drowned, and I didn't know her, but she was the one!" (I'm sure Ben felt this way about Juliet.) But even I, an avowed Hater, can't nitpick an episode this fully entertaining.

And on to the recap.

Desmond wakes up to Nurse Tina Fey. He freaks out: Where's Penny?

Widmore explains that Ben Linus shot him. And he apologizes for keeping Penny away, explaining that they're on the island. Desmond takes this poorly: He attacks him with an IV but Widmore chides, "The island isn't done with you yet."

"It'll be easier to show you than to tell you," is Widmore's explanation to Jin, and to us. But when Fey brings Hume to be "tested," there are major "the engines won't take it!" issues — a tension-amping red herring, but fun nonetheless. Especially since there's a sacrificial bunny named Angstrom involved, a nice nod to Updike, Alice in Wonderland, the bunny Ben used to scare Sawyer, and possibly Bunny Colvin from The Wire.

Team Widmore starts the generator, frying an extra. "Zoe, are we ready?" says Widmore calmly, ignoring the corpse and escorting Desmond to the fryolator.

Lost logo, lookin' good.

Desmond is forced to enter the fryolator. When this is over, Widmore tells Des, he'll need to make a sacrifice.

Des flips out again, but Widmore snaps that his son died here; his own daughter hates him; he's never even met his grandson! It better be worth it — because if Desmond doesn't help, all those people (the daughters! the sons! think of the children!) will be gone.

He needs to know that Desmond can survive a catastrophic electromagnetic event. And so he grabs the levers and pushes them alllll the way forward, causing lights to flash and bells to whistle. "Let me out, you bastard!" Desmond cries, crumpling ...

And we're at the airport. Desmond gazes at the Oceanic flight board. "It's carousel four," Hurley informs him as he passes, because Hurley's a mensch in every timeline. Desmond helps pregnant Claire with her luggage. He asks boy or girl; she demurs, saying she doesn't know. "You're braver than me, I'm not a big fan of surprises."

He offers her a ride, which is a bit creepy, but she says she'll take a cab. "A boy," he says. "I bet it's a boy."

A chauffeur is waiting there with a sign that says Hume. It's Fisher Stevens and his ears and his nose (all last seen dying of time flippage on Widmore's freighter). They chit-chat: Des was closing a deal for his boss in Sydney. Fisher offers him "lovely ladies," but Desmond says he's here to work.

Then he enters an office, passing a painting with justice scales. He's here to see his boss: Widmore. They embrace.

Desmond eyes Widmore's toy boat. Widmore's on the phone: "Get him arraigned and get him out of there!" He name-checks his son, a musician, who had a crazy idea to collaborate with the guitarist from Driveshaft, who was just arrested. If Desmond doesn't get Charlie to the party, Widmore's wife "will destroy him."

No family! No commitments! Ah, to be free of attachments. That's Desmond, our George Clooney avatar.

Widmore offers Scotch to celebrate his henchman's indispensability. Nothing's too good for you, Des.

But when Desmond picks up Charlie from the prison, the hollow-eyed junkie walks straight across the street, risking death, into a bar. The ultimate snotty hipster, Charlie accuses Desmond of being a lackey. Desmond explains he has no title, but plenty of perks: He "gets to meet charming people."

"Tell me, perky, are you happy?" "Quite."

Des has a great job, lots of money, travels the world! Ever been in love? Thousands of times. Charlie pooh-poohs this, because he's seen real love. He explains what happened: He saw Kate's cop, went to the bathroom to swallow his stash, and choked with the turbulence. Coming to, he saw ... her. Blonde, rapturously beautiful, and they'll be together always. Then this idiot (Jack) asked if he was okay.

He's seen something real. The truth.

Des tells him a different truth: If he skips the concert, he'll wreck his career. If he goes, Widmore owes him a favor. "Doesn't really seem like a choice," says Charlie. "There's always a choice, brotha," says Desmond.

In the car, Charlie sneers more: "I feel sorry for you, mate: You think you're happy; you think you got it all."

To show him what he's talking about, Charlie steers the car off the bridge and they dive, dive, dive, deep underwater. Desperate, Des breaks to the surface. He takes a deep breath, then goes back to rescue Charlie. Charlie puts his hand on the window, and Des sees the words "NOT PENNY'S BOAT." (See video below.)

Okay, that was awesome and everyone screams out loud across the Lost nation.

He pulls Charlie to the surface. Cries for help.

A doctor treats Des. She asks about hallucinations. He hesitates — and is put in an MRI.

Once again, he flashes on Charlie's hand: "Not Penny's Boat." Then Penny, then their baby being born — ecstatic images, flashes of love. He pushes the panic button.

He runs off, desperate to find Charlie, but no one will help, including Jack, whom he meets in the corridor. Then Charlie comes flapping down the hall, hospital gown akimbo, and in their confrontation, Charlie says he wasn't trying to kill him, he was trying to show him something. You felt it, didn't you, smirks Charlie.

"You think I'm gonna play a rock concert after this?" Nothing matters — only what they felt.

What do you mean he's gone? says Widmore, unsympathetic to Desmond's junkie-induced injuries. He deputizes Desmond to tell Mrs. Widmore it's "just a bloody concert."

Mrs. W is of course Eloise Hawking, in full Barbara Bush plumage. At the fancy benefit, she surprises him by saying it's fine, a certain unpredictability goes with rock stars. What happened, happened. But when Des overhears the words "Milton, Penny: solo," Eloise announces the guest list is confidential, snatching it from his hand.

Out, everyone, now!

"Stop talking, Hume." Someone has affected his thinking, she insists. Whatever it is he thinks he's looking for, he needs to stop. He has the perfect life — he's achieved Widmore's approval. And he's NOT READY! Ready for what, he says, baffled and handsome.

Des returns to the car for some booze. As they're about to drive away, there's a knock on the window: It's Daniel Widmore, a.k.a. Twitchy Faraday. They need to talk.

"Do you believe in love at first sight?" Daniel asks Des. The first time he saw her was walking through a museum: blue, blue eyes, red hair. It was like he already loved Charlotte. Then he woke up and he wrote a notebook full of sciencey squiggles: quantum mechanics, the kind only twitchy physicists know. (It's actually relativistic physics, gripes my co-watcher, the editor of a science magazine.)

Daniel talks about setting off a nuclear bomb. What if, what if, what if this wasn't supposed to be our life. What if they had some other life, and they'd changed things?

He doesn't want to set to set off a nuclear bomb, he explains. "I think I already did."

Des tries to George Clooney him, but is forced to admit that the Penny encounter shook him up: He fell in love, which is impossible, because "I don't know anything about this woman ... She's an idea." No, Mr. Hume, Daniel explains. She's my half-sister. And he can tell him exactly how he's going to find her.

As Penny jogs in the stadium, Desmond approaches. He introduces himself. She smiles, says hi.

Then he wakes in Widmore's Fryolater.

He's only been unconscious for a few seconds. And he's chill now: He's there to do something very important. "When do we start?"

Tina Fey asks why he's "Mr. Cooperative." That thing fried your brain, she snarks. Suddenly, Sayid attacks. And Des happily follows him.

Meanwhile, back in the flash sideways, he's fainted. Have we met before, says Penny? I'd remember if we had, says Des. And he asks her out for coffee. Okay, she says, giggly-girlish.

In the car, Fisher Stevens asks if he can do anything. Desmond asks him to get the manifest from Flight 815. He just needs to show them something.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW:
• Desmond is special (in your face, John Locke and Tall Walt).
• Most men have a soul mate. Although often in a totally deranged way: intense but randomly imprinted, like the princess at the end of a video game.
• Few women have soul mates, in an active sense. (Sun is no exception: Jin was her rebound relationship.) (I guess Nadia regards Sayid as a soul mate in her flash sideways: I'm almost certain she's been posting on the Cleveland board on Youbemom.com.) (Does Juliet regard Sawyer as her "soul mate"? Discuss.)

THE WHA? FACTOR:
• Who are Penny "Paradise Lost" Milton's parents in the flash sideways?
• What will Desmond's sacrifice be?
• What is Widmore worried about? What does it mean for no one to exist? Because if he means the flash sideways, Hurley, Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Locke might be better off sticking with alternate reality.

Photo: Mario Perez/ABC