The television show Lost has the unique position of being one of the most admired and most reviled TV shows of all time. The negativity is mostly directed at the show’s finale episode. (The article I wrote defending the finale remains to this day one of my most visited posts).
However, I think it’s fair to say that the Season Four episode “The Constant” is generally seen as one of, if not the best episode of the series overall.
About the middle of the third season, it seemed the show had hit a bit of a wall. The show’s creators decided to work towards an end game for the series, limiting how many more seasons remained for the show.
Part of the acceleration of the story involved the “Losties” coming into contact with a freighter off the island that seemed to be there to rescue them. As with many events in the series, not all was as it appeared. They believed the boat belonged to Penny Widmore (Sonya Walger), the ex-girlfriend of Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), a character who was found on the island by the plane crash survivors.
In a previous episode, Lost had already played with the concept of time travel (“Life Flashes Before Your Eyes”). That one also involved the character of Desmond, who began foreseeing the death of Charlie (Dominic Monahan). Every time he saved his life, he would see him die again, leading him to tell Charlie that he is destined to die.
In “The Constant,” Desmond and Sayid (Naveen Andrews) take a helicopter from the island with a pilot who came on the freighter, Frank (Jeff Fahey). After landing on the freighter, Desmond begins jumping back and forth in time, going back to 1996, when he was serving in the Royal Guards. Jumping back to 2004, he doesn’t know where he is and thinks he’s still in 1996. Others on the freighter are experiencing the same jumping back and forth through time—which eventually kills the person making the jumps.
Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies), a scientist who came to the island on the freighter urges Desmond to seek his younger self at Oxford College, where he is a physics professor. There, the younger Daniel, who is experimenting with time travel, instructs him to find a “constant”—someone who will anchor him to both time periods—to prevent him dying from a brain aneurism caused by the time jumps.
1996 Desmond finds Penny, who is still shaken by and angry about their break-up. He begs her to give him her phone number and persuades her to answer the phone on Christmas Eve, 2004. Reluctantly, she agrees.
Back in 2004, Sayid manages to fix the freighter’s broken communications equipment so Desmond can call Penny. Miraculously, he gets through to her, and she answers.
Having made contact with Penny, Desmond stops jumping back and forth between time. He regains his memory.
The scene where Desmond calls Penny is possibly my favorite scene from a TV show, ever. Beat for beat, it is close to perfection, as the suspense builds to whether Penny will answer, whether the contact will end the jumps and save Desmond.
But it’s the moment after years apart when Desmond and Penny finally get to pledge their love to each other once again that makes the episode so memorable. Love conquers all, including time and space. Enhancing the scene further is the gorgeous love theme by composer Michael Giacchino.
Well, see and hear for yourself:
Lost may get criticism even years after it went off the air, but its love stories still pack an emotional punch. The Constant, featuring Lost’s modern interpretations of Ulysses and Penelope, is a stellar example of that.