Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E11 Happily Ever After

If you doubted S6, I’m not sure how you still could after the last month of episodes. First, Sawyer stuck true to his beliefs and chose himself over all of the hoopla on the island. Then, Richard met Jacob and the MiB, doubting which one was good and which one was evil just like we always do. Next, Sun and Jin re-introduced Keamy to the P universe. Finally, Desmond took us back down the path of romance, which is what we all need in our lives.

While the episode was vintage Desmond, I’m not sure it was on the same level as past efforts about the character--“Flashes Before Your Eyes” and “The Constant.” What made those episodes so powerful was the emotion behind them. In this episode, the emotional moments were carried by other actors, whereas Desmond spent the majority of the time trying to connect with his emotions.

Still, the episode was powerful in that it combined, finally, character development and mythology. The changes Desmond made had an effect in both universe, making me wonder if he’s existing in both simultaneously. In honor of this development, this week’s column will only feature two sections, the character section and the mythology section. I’ll discuss Desmond and his cowardice by explaining how it makes him similar to characters like Jack and Ben. Then, the mythology will bleed over a bit into Desmond’s section as I discuss his quest. In the mythology section, I will attempt to outline all the possible ending to the series.

Yes, this edition of The Midside will be heavy with information, but what did you expect? It was a Desmond episode. Now, onto another life, brother!


One major concern I have with this episode is that people will overlook Desmond’s character development because they are too distracted by the mythological concerns. However, some very interesting and precise things happened. It began with Desmond O, one of the most developed characters in the series, attempting to defend himself from Widmore O. Kidnapped and forced to return to the island, Desmond fought his hardest to break free from his captor. However, he was forced into another electromagnetic event, which only he can survive--like he’s the Dr. Manhattan of LOST--and his consciousness jumped into the parallel universe.

There we saw a completely different Desmond, one we never thought we would see. Not only is Penny not part of Desmond P’s life, but he is Widmore P’s right hand man, doing everything the boss asks of him without question. Their relationship is further revealed when Eloise P tells Desmond P that he has Widmore P’s approval, which is all he has ever wanted.

That statement is exactly the difference between Desmond O and Desmond P. Desmond O only wanted Widmore O’s approval for one purpose: So he could pursue Penny O. In the parallel universe, Desmond’s purpose in seeking Widmore’s approval must be different, as he had yet to pursue Penny. Thus, Desmond P’s motivation can only come from one source: His cowardice.

As I discussed with Jack, Locke, and Ben, living your life for another person is an demonstration of your own lack of self-esteem. Though slavery is illegal, in America, you choose to place yourself in subjugation to another human being by placing the verdict of their mind over the verdict of your own mind. This quasi-slavery is the employment Desmond P had with Widmore P. Sure, Desmond P surely must use his mind to solve problems that present themselves during the missions Widmore P gives him, but the purpose of those missions are all determined by Widmore P. In all seriousness, what value does it bring Desmond P if Charlie P plays with Daniel P at Eloise P’s function? Sure, he is paid and makes money, but here we see how the value of money isn’t always, um, constant. If, like Desmond P, you aren’t using money to pursue your own ends, beyond mere necessities of existence, then money isn’t valuable to you. Desmond P may have well been just working for Widmore P for room and board because the rest of his life was meaningless.

Enter Charlie P(ace). The drugged out rock star showed Desmond P that he could have his own purpose for living. (Note: You could have an interesting discussion here comparing and contrasting Richard/Isabella with Desmond/Penny.) You see, Charlie P’s near death on the plane showed him what crashing on the island showed Charlie O: At some point, Driveshaft was no longer Charlie’s purpose (making music) and became Liam’s purpose (chasing highs). Charlie P had this epiphany by viewing the visage of (we assume) Claire, and his life became meaningless to him. Ironically, he began chasing another drug: An unidentifiable unknown blonde woman. And instead of attempting to discover if she’s real, he spiraled downward into a suicidal existence.

The knowledge Desmond P gained from his near death experience is what ultimately propelled him to overcome his own cowardice. He found something he valued and had to pursue it. Say what you will about Desmond in any universe, but he always pursues what he believes to be the ultimate value, Penny. The scene when he finally decided to pursue her featured a boogeyman even Widmore P was afraid of: Eloise P. Amongst intense double talk dialogue, a cryptic list, and confused caterers, Desmond P, though he responds “no,” is actually questioning Eloise P when she asks him if he is doing so. The action has a payoff too.

For Desmond P, that payoff is his ultimate meeting of Penny P in the stadium. For us, it is the heavily mythological conversations he has with Eloise P and Daniel P. Both culminate in a manner which must be noted. After Desmond O snaps back to the original universe, tells Widmore he understands, and agrees to go with Sayid, we flashsideways one more time. Is Desmond existing simultaneously in both universes even after he snaps back to the original timeline? Why did he ask Penny for coffee if the P universe is meaningless?

The meaning of the P universe is hard to ascertain. The only character who seemed to believe it wasn’t worth a damn was Charlie P, the drug addicted rock star. By contrast, Eloise P and Daniel P were much more tenuous on the claim. Eloise P says that the way Desmond P sees thing has been affected and that’s a serious problem and a “violation.” Remember, Ben P and his father were on the island in the P universe. It’s likely Eloise P and Widmore P were as well. Are they somehow in cahoots with the MiB P? She even goes on to tell Desmond P he has the perfect life, making it easy for us to imagine the MiB lecturing Desmond at this point to try and stop him from undermining his escape plan. It’s also important to note here the key quote of the episode. After Eloise P tells Desmond he has what he’s always wanted, Widmore P’s approval, there is the following exchange:
Desmond P: How do you know what I want?
Eloise P: Because I bloody do.
By simply asking that question, Desmond P is asserting his own mind and thus individuality. He is correctly asserting that only he can determine what he wants. He also correctly follows through on his claim by demanding to see the list again. Here’s where things take a turn. Eloise P tells him he can’t because he’s not ready yet (and then walks away). Huh? Does she know what he really wants is Penny? Does she know what happens when Desmond finds Penny in the parallel universe? Once again, Eloise seems to know more than everyone else, but then so does her son Daniel.

Disguised as a discussion of love at first sight, Daniel P explains the nature of the two universes to Desmond P. After seeing Charlotte P at the museum, all of Daniel O’s knowledge of physics started to creep into Daniel P’s brain. Based upon it, Daniel P explains the nuclear bomb hypothetical, and asks the key mythological question of the episode:
Daniel P: What if this, all this, what if this wasn’t supposed to be our life? What if we had some other life, but for some reason we changed things?
Desmond P expresses the same confusion we as the audience are experiencing. He doesn’t know what it has to do with him and what he felt. Daniel P says that what he felt was love. Desmond P disagrees saying that the woman he saw was only an idea. “Idea” is an interesting word choice by Lindelof and Cuse considering that ideas are where all our feelings and actions start from. Desmond P then follows that idea, going to where and when Daniel P says Penny P will be, shaking her hand and then passing out. And that moment is when things got all screwy.

Desmond O woke up and told Widmore O that he understood what Widmore O needed him for. Then, after asking Penny P to get coffee, Desmond P asked George P to get him the flight manifest because he had to show the other passengers something. Here’s my take on the whole thing: While we’re not sure what Widmore O’s agenda is, I don’t think Desmond P is trying to show people that the P universe is “wrong.” He has gained knowledge that has truly made him himself and wants to share how to get it with the other 815 passengers. Maybe he is even trying to get their opinions on what is going on, but the important point is as follows.

Daniel P said they set off the nuclear bomb “for some reason.” That reason is the exertion of their free will. In order to create a life outside the influence of Jacob, which the P universe has been so far, they had to take a drastic action. Now, if you agree with Jacob, that makes the P universe bad. However, if you don’t agree with Jacob (which possibly means if you agree with the MiB), then the P universe is good. Why do I think the P universe is good? (Note: Yes, if the P universe is good then Jack made a good decision in setting off the bomb. Yes, I just said Jack may have done something good.)

It’s impossible for me to claim that the universe where more character are alive, Charlie, Charlotte, Daniel, Locke, and so many are happier, Kate, Jack, Locke, Sawyer, is the worse universe. The only way I could possibly believe so is if I supported the philosophy of utilitarianism and thought the deaths of some and the unhappiness of others were sacrifices necessary for the greater good. I don’t believe in such a philosophy, as it contradicts with the very nature of humanity. (Interestingly, I even believe it even contradicts with Desmond P’s arc in this episode. When he decided he was the only one who could make decisions for himself, he implicitly rejected utilitarianism, selflessness, and altruism.)

However, deciphering where the show goes from here is incredibly complex. There is any number of possibilities…


Based upon the developments of this episode, I believe that I can safely outline the possible endings of LOST. I understand that this list is finite and can always be refuted by inane counterexample (ie: The island is a moon, read that theory for a good laugh). However, I believe this list to be complete as far as endings that are logically consistent with the already established mythos. Thus far, the writers have constructed a consistent story. I don’t believe they would contradict themselves at the end.

The two possibilities are shaped by one question: What is the relationship between Jacob and the MiB? Are they in a struggle for power or are they necessarily equals, a yin and a yang? Under each of these possibilities, there are then several permutations. I will outline the possibility then discuss in detail each permutation about its philosophical consequences and what it means for who I believe to be the two major players at this point: Jack and Desmond. Afterwards, I will tell you which endings are my favorites and which I believe to be the most likely (those two categories happen to intertwine).

Possibility 1: The O universe is where Jacob is “dominant.” The P universe is where the MiB is “dominant.”

The basic premise of this possibility comes from an easy to observe difference: The island is submerged in the P universe and above water in the O universe. From there, I make a series of observations. First, the MiB is still on the island in the O universe, kept there by the actions of Jacob. Second, Jacob’s influence has clearly not been exerted on the 815ers in the P universe, as I have described in several past columns--i.e., Sawyer never wrote his letter. Finally, if we accept the notion that the island is a cork, assuming that Jacob was not lying when he told Richard that, then it is logically consistent that one universe is where the cork is in place and the other universe is where the cork is not in place. Obviously, an island’s place is not underwater. Likewise, if Jacob is the Cork Keeper (can I copyright that?), then the universe without his influence would be the one where the cork is removed. Note how the P universe is without Jacob and the cork is submerged.

In one of my columns this season, I noted how LOST often resembled a philosophical discussion. Different versions of the same concept where shown to tease out the intricacies of the concept. Possibility 1 would be doing the same thing. The O universe would be the result of one philosophy. The P universe would be the result of another philosophy. In a way, it’s tragic that the two universe plot only lasted for one season. By observing both universes, we can see the results of each philosophy, as defined by the “dominant” being in each universe.

A. Jacob is good and the O universe will remain.

Here, Jacob’s diatribe about the cork would be true, and his philosophy of paternalism and limited free will would be correct. Sacrifice for the greater good would be admired, as hinted at by Widmore in this episode. Jack, always following his need to fix things, would become the new Jacob and destroy the P universe to eradicate its evil. Desmond, as he goes about his quest, would tell all the 815ers how the O universe is better because they’re only being tricked into believing they're happy in the P universe.

B. The MiB is good and the P universe will remain.

Here, Jacob’s diatribe about the cork would be part of a con to keep the MiB in subjugation, and the MiB’s philosophy of truth telling (though not always all the details), deal making, and self-interest would be correct. Although, free will would not completely exist as the MiB’s mere existence limits it. (At this point it is important to note that theory that the P universe is the fulfillment of the MiB’s promises because he created it or is, at least, aware of it, carries a lot of merit.) Jack will either fail as the new Jacob, continuing his trend of poorly executed plans, or turn against Jacob as he finally gets over his father issues. Desmond will go about teaching the 815ers about the O universe only so they can maximize their happiness in the P universe by pursuing relationships they might not otherwise (if they didn’t have knowledge of the O universe).

C. Neither Jacob nor the MiB is good or evil. O universe will remain (or both will).

Here, Jacob’s diatribe about the cork is true, but only because he has to remain on the island as well. The existence of either of them in the general population tips the balance, not of good and evil, but of one belief system. This type of ending is what Hollywood most often produces. This type of philosophy is what academic and modern liberals most often endorse. The basic idea is that morality is relative and thus we need all points of view for the world to go round (yes, that includes the povs of murderers, rapists, etc). Jack will become the new Jacob and destroy the P universe as the balance is thrown off there. Desmond will lead the 815ers into epiphanies. They will all then realize their universe is meaningless. (Alternately, if the writers are really smart, they will realize that to be consistent, both universes will need to remain, as all possibilities must exist if everything is relative.)

D. Based upon who is good, the wrong universe will remain

Basically, re-read 1A and 1B above except what Jack and Desmond do in 1A happens in 1B and what they do in 1B happens in 1A. (ie: The MiB is good, but Jack destroys the P universe out of his loyalty to Jacob because of his need to fix things.

Possibility 2: The O universe has Jacob and the MiB. The P universe has neither.

There isn’t much to say about this possibility as far as introductory statements. The basic idea is that Jacob and the MiB don’t exist in the P universe. The most obvious, and difficult to get around, objection is that the island does exist in that universe; it is just submerged. It’s mere existence seems to suggest that Jacob and the MiB existed at some point. However, hypothesizing that they didn’t raises some interesting questions about morality and free will.

A. Jacob and the MiB are both good and need to exist for there to be order.

Yup, you’re catching on pretty quickly. This outcome is the same as 1C. The only difference is, mythologically, Jacob and the MiB can’t have exerted any influence in the P universe. (They are higher beings. The existence of higher beings necessarily limits/negates free will for lower beings.) This condition seems to be unlikely as the island was, at one point, above water in the O universe and, presumably, Jacob and the MiB existed on it. Assuming that point, when Desmond, Charlie, and Daniel gained knowledge from the O universe, it could very easily be argued that knowledge is the influence of Jacob O and the MiB O on the P universe.

B. Jacob and the MiB are both bad and need to die to allow for free will.

I mentioned the basic idea for this one already. Higher beings necessarily negate free will, as their actions limit the choices people can make. The easiest way to prove this assertion is to consider Jacob. Look at how he has limited the choices of all the characters in the original universe by merely touching them. Now consider his whole summoning people to the island thing. Likewise, the MiB’s super-human powers, turning into black smoke, have limited the choices of the people on the island while on the island, though to a much lesser extent to Jacob. The interesting question that is raised here is if the MiB off the island would exert any sort of influence on free will. In regards to Jack, he would, as mentioned above, overcome his need for approval from a father figure, see through Jacob, and destroy the O universe. In regards to Desmond, he would be showing the 815ers the O universe so they could maximize their happiness in the P universe by finding happy relationships. However, this idea raises a problem I stated before, namely that obtaining knowledge from the O universe could be considered being influenced by Jacob and The MiB.

My favorite ending would be 1B as it is in line with all I have been saying throughout this season: The MiB is good, self-interest is the ultimate morality of the series, and Jacob has been running a long con. However, I don’t think the writers will go in that direction, at least not explicitly.

I believe that the writers will utilize ending 1D; the MiB will be good and Jack will become the new “Jacob” and destroy the P universe, but we, as viewers will be left to debate whether the ending is really 1A or 1D. The final scene will be the MiB as Locke telling Jack how badly he wants to kill him. LOST.

The immediate reaction will be that Jack was vindicated as the good guy and saved the world by endorsing the morality of Jacob that is commonly accepted in our culture: Selflessness and altruism. However, as people look back and interpret the series, they will see the vast amount of anti-Jacob/pro-MiB evidence that supports self-interest and refutes selflessness. Fans such as yours truly will lead the charge and the epic LOST debate will continue as it always has. Many will adore Jack. Many will mock him. It’s the perfect ending to the show as it doesn’t piss of any viewers and retains the philosophical integrity it has built throughout the series, a mythology all its own, a commentary on society, and a challenge to the viewer all in one. (I even bet that Sawyer and Kate end up together in the P universe, while Jack and Kate end up together in the O universe. Those dichotomous outcomes are logically consistent with the 1A or 1D debate, as they have been the entire series.)

There you have it, LOST distilled down to its bare bones a mere handful of episodes before it is no more. You probably didn’t think it was possible. Still don’t think I accomplished it? That’s fine, I only ask that you do one thing with what I’ve written here:

Think about it.

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