Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Lost" Fifteen Favorites: "Flashes Before Your Eyes"

“You’re gonna die, Charlie.”


So number eight on the list of my fifteen favorite Lost episodes is “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” Another Desmond episode. Big surprise, right? After rewatching this episode, I’m tempted to move it up the list a bit, but I’ll stick with my original ranking. The ending makes me teary, but not in the hopeful way that “The Constant” does. “Flashes” depicts the low point of Penny and Desmond’s relationship, with some “Lost” time wonkiness to make it unique. It’s one of the few “extended flashback” episodes the series has done (a more recent example would be the Richard Alpert-centric “Ab Aeterno”), and I think it works really well as a way to get viewers invested in Desmond and Penny if they weren’t already after that scene in “Live Together, Die Alone” where Penny’s letter saves Desmond at a low point in his life.

The framing device for this slightly twisted flashback is Charlie getting even more suspicious and a little bit pissed about Desmond continuously saving Claire and himself. It’s really starting to creep Charlie out, and Domenic Monaghan plays the frustration well. The final straw is when a bunch of the gang are out in the jungle having a conference following Eko’s death, and Des takes off running. He runs all the way to the water’s edge, where he dives in and ends up rescuing a drowning Claire. After Claire is resuscitated, Charlie demands to know how Des knew she was drowning, but Des just walks off, choosing not to respond to Charlie’s yelling.

Charlie has an idea for how to get the information he wants out of Desmond. As he tells Hurley, he’s going to get Des “bloody drunk.” When Charlie and Hurlie offer Des a night of drinking, he’s hesitant at first, figuring he’s spent a bit too much time drunk recently. His attitude changes, however, when he sees what exactly Charlie has brought to drink. It’s 60-year MacCutcheon whisky, and as we’ll see later, that particular liquor has special meaning for Desmond. He drinks it right from the bottle. The scene where Desmond, Charlie, and Hurley are drinking by the fire seems like a sort of precursor to the B-team hijinks I love so much in “Catch 22.” As the evening is winding down, Charlie again asks Desmond how he knew Claire was drowning, and he makes the mistake of calling Des a coward when Des doesn’t give a straight answer. This cuts deeply for Des, and he tackles Charlie, yelling that Charlie doesn’t want to know what he saw when he turned the failsafe key.

Thus begins the almost full-episode flashback to what exactly happened to Des after he turned that key. He wakes up on the floor of his run-down London flat, covered in red paint. A very concerned Penny hovers over him. Desmond can’t believe his good fortune at seeing Penny again, and he clings to her. He can’t help feeling something isn’t right, though. Little things, such as his microwave sounding like the countdown alarm in the Swan, trigger flashes of his Island life. Des can dwell on the déjà vu for too long, though. He’s got bigger fish to fry- a job interview coming up with none other than Charles Widmore. This interview doesn’t seem to be at all at Penny’s insistence, but something Des feels he has to do. I think that’s entirely consistent with their characters. Penny’s always been content to just let Des be Des, but Desmond always feels he has to have the approval of Penny’s dad.

The interview, not surprisingly, doesn’t go well. Oh Widmore offers Desmond a job all right, but that’s not really why Des was there. He wanted Widmore’s approval to marry Penny. In typical Widmore fashion, Charles turns Desmond down in the most degrading way possible. Widmore breaks out two glasses and the 60-year MacCutcheon, fills only his own glass, and tells Desmond he’s not worthy of drinking his whisky let alone marrying his daughter. Desmond is furious as he leaves Widmore Industries, ripping off his tie and throwing it to the ground. Something captures his attention in the midst of his tantrum- a busker performing “Wonderwall” on the sidewalk. It’s none other than Charlie, of course. Desmond has another flash to his other life when he sees Charlie, and he starts screaming at Charlie that he knows him (Henry Ian Cusick really does have the angry, yelling Desmond thing down pat, right?).

Charlie tries to both calm Des and keep the crowd from freaking out as Desmond babbles on about how he remembers living this day before, and then it starts to rain. The director (and perhaps writer as well, if this was spelled out in the stage directions) clearly isn’t a musician. When it starts to pour, Charlie closes his guitar case to protect his donation sign and money, but he’s still wearing his guitar. Um…probably wouldn’t want a wooden instrument like that nice acoustic guitar to get soaking wet...right Charlie? Des continues with the déjà vu theme when he and his friend Donovan, who happens to be a physicist, spend some time at the pub. Donovan thinks Desmonds time travel theory has no merit and that he’s just scared about committing to Penny. “Make Your Own Kind of Music” playing on the juke box prompts Desmond to say he knows exactly what is going to happen next- the underdog team is going to win the soccer match on TV, then a man is going to knock out the bartender with a cricket bat. When neither of these things happens, Des starts to think Donovan might be right.

Taking Donovan’s advice about Penny to heart, especially after Penny tells him she loves him because he’s a good man and that’s hard to come by. He’s poking around a sort-of musty shop looking for an engagement ring. The shopkeeper, though, gives Des a lot more than he bargained for. First she shows him the perfect ring for his price point, then she tries to tell him he can’t have it because that’s not what’s supposed to happen. He’s supposed to chicken out. Desmond is determined, though, so the shopkeeper asks if he’d like to go for chestnuts so they can talk about it some more. Yes, in the “Lost” version of London, there are roasted chestnut stands on the street. That was more than a little too cliché for my taste. Anyway, Desmond freaks out a bit when the shopkeeper correctly predicts the imminent death of a passerby. Desmond wants to know why she didn’t try to save him, and she replies that “the universe has a way of course correcting.” If she saved him from this particular incident, something else bad would happen to him instead. We would later learn in the series, by the way, that the mysterious shopkeeper is Mrs. Hawking, former lover of Charles Widmore and mother of Daniel Faraday.

Despite Mrs. Hawking’s warning that Desmond was not meant to get engaged to Penny- he was meant to travel the path that would lead him to the Island and pushing the button (the “one great thing” he would ever do)- Desmond is ready to propose when he and Penny go out for lobsters on the pier. On their way to dinner, they pass by a man who is selling photos in front of different backgrounds. Desmond and Penny decide to give it the go, and we see the origin of the iconic photo of Des and Penny in front of that marina that Desmond still carries around. When Penny has to pay for the picture because Desmond doesn’t have the money, something in Des snaps. He doesn’t feel like Penny deserves someone like him who can’t provide for her. Instead of proposing to Penny, Desmond ends up breaking up with her and throwing the ring into the Thames. Desmond finds himself back at the pub, where all the things he predicted on the night he was there with Donovan start coming true.

Back on the Island, once Desmond has calmed down a little, Charlie offers to walk him back to his tent. Charlie again demands answers, and this time Des gives in. He tells Charlie that his life flashed before his eyes when he turned the failsafe key, and he’s still getting flashes. Now, however, the flashes are about the future. Desmond hasn’t been saving Claire with all his heroic acts. He’s actually been trying to save Charlie. Charlie is fated to die soon, and Desmond can’t keep protecting him forever, although he’s trying his best for now. I think this plot is what made Charlie a likeable character again after all his moodiness in season 2.

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