The Best Episode of Lost Turns 15 Today: Penny, Desmond, and “The Constant”

The post The Best Episode of Lost Turns 15 Today: Penny, Desmond, and “The Constant” appeared first on Consequence.

There had never been anything like Lost on television prior to its premiere in 2004 — and in a way, there hasn’t been anything quite like it since. The story of a group of plane crash survivors on a remote, increasingly mysterious island revolutionized the way people thought about TV. It was the water cooler show to end all water cooler shows for a spell, spawning online forums, columns dedicated just to weekly theories and references, and endless speculation.

Lost tended to put its characters first, driving the story with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and the eventual flash-sideways. By the time Season 4 rolled around, an episode of the show could be anything, and in a time where some viewers thought Lost might be on shaky footing, along comes Episode 5, “The Constant,” celebrating its fifteenth anniversary today (February 28th).

Written by showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, “The Constant” gave a bolt of energy to the show’s nervous system, reinvigorating it with that balance of sci-fi oddities and high-octane emotional beats that made the show so very addictive in the first place.

For those who haven’t spent time on the island in a while — if you haven’t gone back, so to speak — let us get you back up to speed. The show’s fourth season was the shortest at 14 episodes, which feels like a silly sentence in our present-day reality of entire seasons capped at nine or 10 episodes. (Remember the days of luxurious, weekly sit-downs, knowing you were only halfway through a season that could stretch 23 episodes at a time?)

At this point in the story, our core group of Islanders are aiming to connect with the mysterious freighter, and Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) and Sayid (Naveen Andrews) are on a helicopter with everyone’s favorite ever-resilient pilot, Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey). It’s here, flying through a lightning storm, that our long-haired Scot begins flashing through time and suddenly finds himself in 1994, training in the Royal Regiment of Scotland, feeling as if he just emerged from a dream about an island. The one thing present in both timelines? The perpetual draw to his beloved, Penny (Sonya Walger).

Again, there was so much to love about watching Lost, even beyond the Easter eggs like this episode’s painting of a ship called The Black Rock. Film buffs enjoyed winks to pop culture staples woven throughout the script, and literary and history lovers got their fair share of references, too. Desmond, stranded on the island in a shipwreck after an attempt at sailing around the world, languished in the infamous underground hatch for years, and at this point in the story is reaching the end of his rope: In so many ways, Desmond is an Odysseus figure, mirroring quite a few key points of the protagonist in the Greek epic; the writers even lifted the name of Odysseus’s faithful wife from The Odyssey, Penelope herself.

Lost the constant
Lost the constant

Lost (ABC)

While that epic poem had touches of romance, Desmond and Penny dial things up by a significant degree. It can be argued that Desmond and Penny have the greatest love story in Lost (Sun and Jin might give them a run for their money, but that’s a debate for another time) — not only did Cuse and Lindelof stick the landing on the dual timeline structure of the episode, including the essential role provided by Jeremy Davies’ quirky, offbeat Daniel Faraday, the romantic climax is just about impossible to resist.

Many elements of this episode in particular have aged very well — “The Constant” works best within the context of the season, of course, as Lost isn’t necessarily the kind of show that makes revisiting standalone episodes possible. Yet composer Michael Giacchino is one of the most dependable pieces of the show’s puzzle, and the new theme deployed here, titled “The Constant,” is crushing in all its emotional glory. The sharp editing and sound design, led by Thomas E. DeGorter, add to the disorienting effect as we jump between timelines.

And, of course, it’s the performances from Cusick and Walger that ensure the episode all comes together. Cusick is reliable throughout the series as Desmond, and this episode in particular allows him to show some sides of the character that don’t usually exist at the forefront — he’s panicked and confused at points, desperate and solemn in others, all of which offer a contrast to the relatively steady figure we as viewers had grown to know at this point in the show. To top it all off, setting the pivotal phone call at Christmas provides the sort of imagery that makes an episode of television go from great to truly memorable.

In a show where it was easy to get consumed with smoke monsters, alternate realities, and a never-ending funnel of mysteries, “The Constant” got to the heart of the show’s powers — when Lost was at its best, it was about the people, and this episode underscored the idea expertly. Sometimes, all we need is to be reminded of the kind of love that pushes people to never give up on one another, and to never stop trying to find each other, no matter the circumstances.

“I’m calling my bloody constant.”

Lost is streaming now on Hulu and Freevee.

The Best Episode of Lost Turns 15 Today: Penny, Desmond, and “The Constant”
Mary Siroky

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