Spoilers for "Lost" season five, episode three coming up just as soon as I find out what year this is...
"I won't leave you again. Not for this. Not for anything." -Desmond
As "Lost" season five continues to grapple with the unstuck-in-time nature of the island, it seems appropriate to have an early episode devoted to both our resident time-traveler and our resident time-travel expert. Other characters figure into the narrative (though none of the Oceanic Six, nor Ben, which gives the hour a more streamlined feeling than either of last week's), but really, this is the story of what Desmond is willing to do with the knowledge he gains from his flashes, and of what extreme, possibly reprehensible, lengths Daniel Faraday went to in order to master this outlaw brand of science.
Now, "Jughead" also detonates a hydrogen bomb-level piece of information about the show's mythology, as we find out that the British soldier from the end of "The Lie" is not only an Other, but a young Charles Widmore. This puts the Ben/Widmore power struggle into an entirely new light. Because Widmore moves in time (or, rather, doesn't move) when the setting shifts for Faraday, Sawyer and company, we can assume he's a native Other, too, or at least a long-standing resident of the island, or in some way immunized from all the time jumps. (The accent probably suggests he's a non-native, unless all of The Others somehow have their own individual dialects.) And that, in turn, makes it clear why Widmore believes he has a rightful claim to the island that Ben stole from him(*), and again raises new questions about who's the hero and who's the villain.
(*) Or did the island/Jacob make the choice, in the same way that Ben was cast out so that Locke could take over leadership of The Others? Does the timeline allow for Ben and Widmore to have co-existed as Others? He obviously had to be back in the real world with enough time to father Penny and build his business empire, but the time-skipping nature of the island allows for some flexibility. After all, Alan Dale (who plays Widmore) would have been a little kid at the time of the events of "Jughead," yet Widmore's a man in his 20s in 1954. So either Dale is playing older than he is, or we're dealing with some serious time-travel shenanigans. A lot of this obviously depends on whether Richard is the only Other who doesn't age -- an idea you could potentially extrapolate from Locke and Juliet's brief discussion of his age -- but it could be that Widmore was still a young man when Ben led the purge of Dharma, and then he got banished to the real world several decades earlier, at which point he began to age normally.
But back to the hero/villain question. Yes, Widmore sent his goons to take back the island by force, and they murdered Rousseau and Alex and blew up the boat with Michael and (maybe) Jin aboard. But do we ever want to taking Ben Linus' side of any dispute? Penny seems so terrified of her father finding out where she and Desmond are, but Desmond's visit to Widmore's office -- and Widmore's plea for Desmond to take Penny back to wherever they were hiding -- is a reminder that Penny really needs to be afraid of Ben, who's still seeking eye-for-an-eye vengeance for Alex's death.
And they are absolutely going to give me a heart attack waiting for something bad to happen to Desmond, or Penny, or both. It's amazing how this couple who've had a tiny sliver of the shared screen time compared to any combination of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle, or of Jin/Sun, have become the romantic pairing I care most about. That's a testament to Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger's performances, and to the brilliant heartstring-yanking climax of "The Constant," and to the way their story seems so integral to what the show is revealing itself to be about. I felt moved by the childbirth scene, even though I've seen variations on that about 9,000 times over the years, and I misted up a bit when I found out they'd named their son after Charlie (whose life Desmond had worked so hard to save, and whose sacrifice helped Penny find Desmond). As I watched Desmond steer his yacht, little Charlie on his lap, content as any man has a right to be, I felt a joy for him that I rarely feel for fictional characters, outside of maybe those rare moments where good things happen on "The Wire."
And as I felt happier and happier to watch these two, a voice inside my head got louder and louder with its warnings that something terrible is going to happen. No one on this show can be this blissful, this satisfied, with so much time left to go before the finale. I just know that Desmond is going to have to break his promise to Penny about going back to the island, or that Ben -- who's currently in the city that's next on the Hume family's travel itinerary -- is going to get to Penny before Desmond can stop him, and I'm not sure I can handle seeing that. (If my worst fears are proven right, expect that night's blog entry to be either a lot of incoherent wailing, or else a video like the crying Giants fan -- language NSFW.)
While Desmond and Penny are filling my heart with equal parts delight and dread, the episode deliberately left me unsure what to think about Dan Faraday. On the one hand, he manages to keep a cool head about him in the midst of all this island chaos, he seems concerned with helping everybody survive, and his feelings for Charlotte (and vice versa) appear to be very real. On the other hand, Desmond uncovers some disconcerting news about Dan's past as an Oxford researcher. We already saw from the 1996 scenes in "The Constant" that the younger Dan was kind of an arrogant SOB, so it shouldn't be that big of a surprise that he experimented on human subjects, or even that he'd abandon Theresa Spencer, the poor woman whose life he destroyed by sending her consciousness tripping back and forth through time.
But I'm assuming that Theresa was the woman in the photo Desmond found in Dan's old Oxford office -- that she was Dan's girlfriend, and that he talked her into being his guinea pig because he couldn't find anyone else to do it. That makes the abandonment more unsettling -- as Theresa's sister asks, "What kind of man does that?" -- and it also raises a whole lot of questions about Dan's relationship with Charlotte, who appears to die from the time sickness at episode's end, in the same way that Fisher Stevens did in "The Constant." Is there a chance that Charlotte has also played the guinea pig for Dan in the past? Or does her sickness and apparent death tie in to all the speculation that Charlotte was, like Widmore, born on the island? In previous seasons, I might be annoyed that they bumped off Charlotte before we ever got to find out what made her tick, but this season's chronological hijinx means that we almost certainly haven't seen the last of her.
How good is Jeremy Davies, by the way? There's a tendency to take what he does for granted because he specializes in playing this kind of twitchy outcast, but he more than deserves to be shoved center stage the way he's been this season. Just listen to the way he delivers a line like "Fantastic idea, really inspired" when Ellie the Other threatens to take a shot at him while he's standing near the hydrogen bomb; coming out of Sawyer's mouth, or Miles', it easily has a sarcastic undertone. But Davies' delivers it with complete exasperation, even exhaustion. Dan's mind is always racing faster than everyone else's, and you can see him doing all the mental calculus -- including the realization that the bomb problem will work itself out with or without him, because the island hadn't blown up 50 years in the future -- and growing frustrated that Ellie, like everyone else he deals with on the island, can't keep up with him. He's not cruel the way 1996 Dan was (though my opinion on that could change when we learn more about what happened to Charlotte), but he makes it clear how tiring it is to always be the smartest man in the room.
Again, this is definitely a Desmond/Daniel episode, but I don't want to gloss over the material between Locke (who has now definitively thrown in his lot with The Others) and the 1954 version of Richard Alpert. Operating under the show's closed-loop theory of time-travel, Locke takes the compass a future version of Richard gave him, hands it to the 1954 Richard and sets things in motion so that Richard will bring it along to "test" the young Locke in the scene we already witnessed in last season's "Cabin Fever." The Locke we see here has to remember how that meeting went, but he can't do anything to change it now -- per Dan, Desmond's the only character on the show with the ability to rewrite the timeline -- so I'm curious how this particular turn of events is going to help Locke find out the secret of getting off the island. I'm guessing we'll see Locke run into Richard in the '60s or '70s within another episode, and eventually Richard will believe the crazy bald guy.
The other day, I went back and re-watched season three's "The Brig" on ABC.com to see if there was anything in Locke and Richard's first scene together that played different in retrospect. And there definitely is: knowing that Locke encountered The Others in the past (and will probably do so a few more times this season) better explains why they're all so in awe of him around their camp, why they talk about "waiting" for him to show up, and also why Richard is so eager to help Locke subvert Ben's leadership. Richard knows that Locke is destined to be their leader down the road, and maybe Ben knows it, too, which would support his determination to get rid of Locke at every turn.
We talk a lot about whether Lindelof and Cuse had a master plan from the start, or whether they were making things up as they went along. We're not going to know that for sure until the series ends -- and maybe not even then -- but I think it's fair to say that there has been a plan in place going back at least to those meetings the producers had with ABC after everybody realized how much they hated "Stranger in a Strange Land" midway through season three. We may never get a satisfactory explanation of The Numbers, but I believe everything that's happened on the show for the last season and a half has been as meticulously plotted-out as it's feasible to do on a TV series. And the more I see of the new episodes, and on how they reflect back and amplify things we saw in the past -- the more I zip back and forth through time right along with Desmond, Dan and the rest -- the more confident I feel.
Some other thoughts on "Jughead":
• There was a lot of speculation last week that Dan's mother and Ms. Hawking might be the same person. Now that Widmore has said Dan's mom is in Los Angeles -- which is where we saw Ms. Hawking last week -- should we just assume that theory's correct, or do we need to be mindful of the Felix Unger rule about assuming?
• I was lucky enough to watch this episode a couple of weeks ago at the TV critics press tour, where ABC screened it on a couple of giant monitors right before a Q&A session with Lindelof and Cuse. Obviously, not everybody has the option of watching the show on a movie theater-sized screen, but I highly recommend the idea of the communal "Lost" viewing experience if you've never tried it. The collective "awwwww..." at the revelation of baby Charlie's name, and the cacophony of laughter, applause and gasps at the revelation of the young Widmore really enriched the hour, and was a reminder that television doesn't have to be watched in solitary fashion.
• Something else I was reminded of while re-watching "The Brig": what's happening to Cindy the flight attendant, and the kids, and anyone else The Others abducted from the tail section? Will they turn up at some point this season just as unstuck-in-time as Sawyer and company? Or is something at work beyond being a native, or being on the island a long time, that would have them traveling (or not traveling) with The Others, while Juliet (who was with the group a lot longer than Cindy) and Locke (ostensibly their leader) don't?
• I still don't completely follow how Desmond's exemption from the show's time travel rules works, but I like that Penny at least bothered to ask why he didn't remember meeting Faraday until several years later. Also, for the people still having a hard time following the show's closed-loop philosophy of time travel, I'd strongly recommend renting the movie "12 Monkeys," which operates along similar lines and does a pretty good job of explaining it in layman's terms.
• Sawyer and Miles would seem to be dead even in their battle for island comedy supremacy. On Miles' side of the ledger: him immediately pointing the soldiers towards Dan when they demanded to speak to a leader, and his "That's just awesome" response to Dan's suggestion that their predicament could resolve itself in 5 minutes or 5000 years. On Sawyer's side: "Hate to bust up the 'I'm an Other, you're an Other reunion," and his brilliant double-take upon getting a look at the bomb.
• And two more of the remaining Socks got lost in the dryer that is the island. (Credit/blame for that turn of a phrase goes to Dan Fienberg.) As Lindelof said a few weeks ago, the show has moved past the point where the Oceanic 815 passengers we don't know provide any value to the narrative, so I wouldn't get attached to anybody who isn't either a regular castmember or a beloved recurring character like Rose and Bernard.
• Maybe one of you can help me scratch a particular pop culture itch. Ever since I first heard this episode's title, my mind went not to Archie Andrews' asexual best pal, but to a random snippet of an '80s teen show or movie that I can't remember anything about, save that one character is acting crazy and introduces himself to someone else by claiming, "My name's Jughead. Jug. Head!" I want to say it's something Peter DeLuise did on "21 Jump Street," but that's a total shot in the dark. Ring a bell with anyone else?
One final note: this is the last of the episodes I've seen in advance, and I'll most likely be watching the rest of the season in real time with the rest of you. Early last season, I asked whether people preferred the ensuing reviews to be done fast or to be done thoroughly. The consensus at the time was you preferred depth over speed, but as the season moved along, people would start popping up to comment on other posts and complain that the "Lost" review wasn't done yet. So let me ask again: do you want something done as quickly as possible so you can start talking, or would you rather wait (usually until sometime late morning/early afternoon of the following day) for a more detailed review?
What did everybody else think?