Lost, Season 4, Episode 5, “The Constant”
Original airdate February 28, 2008
As we head into Christmas Eve, I have a small confession I’d like to make. I never quite got onto the Lost bandwagon that everyone else did last decade. While everyone on the Internet was praising it to high Heaven and analyzing every single detail about it in order to unravel its mysteries (which even early on I sensed they could never explain in a satisfactory way so I never bothered to unravel them), I was always more interested in what would happen to the characters once they left the island and got back to their normal lives, which is why I still think the show peaked in the “Through the Looking Glass” season 3 finale with Jack’s “WE HAVE TO GO BACK!!!!”. Ironically, I became more invested in the show once everyone else had gotten sick of it. Add to that the second season that tried to unravel the mysteries of the universe via navel-gazing in The Hatch and practically every single character on the show having crippling daddy issues, the show had a self-seriousness to it that alongside Battlestar Galactica put it in the “Like It, Don’t Love It” camp for me. For me, the show was at its strongest when it focused on its characters. I cared more about the outcome of the golf game in season 1 (a fun little diversion that allowed for the characters to blow off steam and enjoy themselves) than what ultimately the island was all about. And for me, the best thing to come out of season 2 was the introduction of Desmond Hume (who is tied with Benjamin Linus as my favorite character on the series) and his unrequited love for Penny Widmore. This culminated in season 4 with the closest thing to a Christmas episode the show had ever done and in my opinion the best episode of the series, “The Constant”.
The episode begins with Desmond, Sayid and Lapidus on a helicopter flying towards the Kahana, the freighter boat that was the big addition to season 4 that brought the Freighter Four (Lapidus, Daniel Faraday, Charlotte Lewis and Miles Straum) to the island as well as made Charles Widmore the big villain of the season. As they follow Faraday’s specific coordinates to get free of the island’s temporal displacement, they head through a thunderstorm. As they do that, Desmond (or specifically his consciousness circa 1996) starts jumping back and forth between the past (when he had joined the Scottish army after breaking up with Penny) and the current present on the boat. The rest of the episode follows 96 Desmond as he figures out where and when he is, what’s going on with the boat (with someone sabotaging the boat’s communication devices) and that he’s not the only one experiencing this. Unfortunately, they die of a brain aneurysm due to the shock. With help from Faraday in the past and present, Desmond learns that in order to not suffer the same fate as Eloise the rat and the communications officer aboard the boat, he needs a Constant. Something that was there in both the past and the present that he really cares about to focus on and keep his brain from short circuiting due to the time jumps. For him, there’s no doubt what, or who, that Constant would be. Thus in the past, he tracks down Charles Widmore to get Penny’s new address and then goes to Penny, who’s still pissed at him for breaking up with her. He then pleads to her that if she still cares about him even a little, he needs her to take a leap of faith and to give him a phone number that he can call to reach her on Dec 24th, 2004. She does, if only just to get him to leave, and when Desmond finally gets back (with 96 Desmond back in his 96 body, I think. It’s a bit wonky as to whether or not it’s 04 Desmond making the call), one of the best moments in the show’s history happens.
As the episode pertains to the holidays, “The Constant” could be seen liberally as a modern day, sci-fi take on A Christmas Carol. While Desmond Hume is nowhere near the crotchety old man Ebenezer Scrooge was, the jumps from his past (1996) to his future (2004) is like seeing the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future working simultaneously to show a cowardly man the error of his ways and that the love he has for Penny is his redeeming quality that can save him from dying alone. If there is a Ghost of Christmas Present, it would probably be Daniel Faraday. As it pertains to the rest of the series, this episode is when Lindelof and Cuse put aside the Byzantium interconnectedness they had spent the previous three and a quarter seasons building and just focused on their greatest strength which was the characters and the journeys they are on. The epic romance between Desmond and Penny was one of the strongest relationships on the show since it personified the theme of the series of lost souls finding themselves and each other in a fractured world. And for them to finally find each other and express their love for each other on Christmas Eve, it’s not only the show at its most emotionally poetic and pure, but also happens to touch on what makes the Christmas season what it is.