A few months ago my wife and I began our Great Lost Re-Watch Project! In preparation for the upcoming sixth and final season of Lost, we’ve been re-watching every episode of the show, starting with the pilot episode and working our way forward through the seasons. I’ll have a lot more to say about our Lost Re-Watch Project in the coming weeks, but for now I just had to share the major epiphany I had in re-watching the season 3 episode “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” I had remembered this installment as being a terrific episode, but in re-watching it now it seems to me like this episode spells out some of the MAJOR SECRETS of Lost!
Spoilers abound, so if you’re not a fan of the show I’d advise you to turn back now.
In this episode, Charlie & Hurley confront Desmond on his apparent ability to see the future, which he used to prevent a lightning bolt from striking Claire’s tent and then again later to save her from drowning. After being pushed angrily by Charlie in those introductory scenes, we follow Desmond’s experiences after turning the failsafe key in the hatch (in the season 2 finale “Live Together, Die Alone”). Somehow, after turning that key, Desmond wakes up in the past, in his apartment with Penny (which she has apparently just moved into with him). Desmond has flashes of memories of his future years spent pushing the button in the hatch, which are prompted by moments such as the beeping of his microwave sounding eerily like the beeping in the hatch… and his alarm clock reading 1:08 (the number of minutes one has to push the button)… and of course the moment when he sees Charlie playing music on the street. But mostly (at least at first), Desmond seems to be re-living his past experiences with little knowledge of what is to come. We see him happy with Penny, and then we see him asking Charles Widmore for Penny’s hand in marriage. (The old man cruelly rejects him.)
Things really get mind-bending when Desmond goes to buy an engagement ring for Penny. There he meets a mysterious woman (who we’ll learn in later episodes is named Eloise Hawking), who seems to know all about him and insists that he’s not supposed to give Penny that ring. She states that he must follow through on the chain of events that will lead him to the hatch and the button, saying that “pushing that button is the only truly great thing that you will ever do.” When Desmond insists that he can change things, she tells him that, try as he might, “the universe has a way of course-correcting itself.” (She illustrates this by describing the futility of her trying to save a red-shoed man from death.) Desmond ultimately decides that he isn’t worthy of Penny, and leaves her (after the two get their photo taken – the photo that Desmond and Penny each keep of the other), just as he had done before.
On first viewing, this episode was a trippy variation on Lost‘s usual flashbacks. It was a fascinating insight into what drove Desmond to break Penny’s heart, and eventually wind up trying to prove himself to her father by entering in his boat-race around the world (which would result in his crashing on the island as seen in “Live Together, Doe Alone.”) Later, of course, we’d get a little more information on the idea of time-travel by way of mind-switching in season 4′s “The Constant” (another standout episode).
But in light of all of the time-travel shenanigans of season 5, this little season 3 episode must be seen in an entirely new light.
This episode seems to spell out, quite clearly, that in the Lost universe it is impossible to change the past/future. While small details can be shifted, the universe will continue to course-correct itself until everyone’s original destinies are met. In fact, that storyline is played out throughout the third season, in the form of Desmond’s ultimately futile efforts to save Charlie from death.
In the season 5 finale, “The Incident,” we saw Jack’s plan to detonate a hydrogen bomb on the island in the past, in an attempt to change history and prevent the crash of Oceanic flight 815. While Sawyer insisted that “what’s done is done,” Jack professed his belief that Locke was ultimately correct about the island’s nature, and that it was his “destiny” to change the course of history. At the episode’s end, the time-lost castaways successfully detonated the bomb at the moment that the Dharma initiative drill hits the island’s mysterious electromagnetic energy source (the much-discussed “incident” mentioned throughout the run of the series). The screen flashed white, and the season ended, leaving Lost fans desperate to know whether Jack succeeded in changing history, or if the gang had merely wound up causing the “incident” that lead to the construction of the button-pushing contraption in the Swan Station.
I would argue that a close examination of season 3′s “Flashes Before Your Eyes” makes the answer clear: on this show, history cannot be changed.
Am I correct? We’ll see in just a few weeks!