Doc Jensen

What the Dickens?

Doc Jensen's post-finale ''Lost'' theory: Here's why Desmond and his lady love are crucial to the story -- and what ''Our Mutual Friend'' has to do with it

BECAUSE OF LOVE Lost 's Desmond
Image credit: Lost: Mario Perez
BECAUSE OF LOVE Lost's Desmond

'Lost' (S2): Our expert's post-finale theory

In the brief time that I've been in the Lost theorizing business, I've thrown a lot of ideas at you. The History Rubric. (Still looking good after the season finale, even if I was wrong about finding a landing strip.) The Evil Aaron Hypothesis. (Looking shaky, though some elements remain viable.) The Human Extinction Argument. (Looking rather endangered, since the last scene of the finale established that there is indeed life outside The Island.)

But now that the second season of the show has come to an end, I have come to a conclusion, myself. Not just about the second season, but about all of Lost. It's my ultimate theory, and from here on out, my intention is to fold all my Lost thinking into this Big Picture framework. Consider this, then, my ''One Ring to Rule Them All'' concept of Lost.

I call it the All You Need Is Love (and Desmond) Theory of Lost.

Sound corny? Maybe... as corny as Desmond proclaiming, ''And I will win this race for love!''? Maybe... as corny as Desmond announcing, ''I have to get my honor back!''?

Fine. Call it corny, but I'm nutty for the idea. And I think I'm right. With its season finale, Lost revealed its true identity: It's actually a gloriously old-fashioned, ridiculously idealistic romantic epic. But the Romeo and Juliet of this love story aren't Jack and Kate (but I did love their non-verbal Han/Leia ''I love you''/''I know'' nod-and-blink exchange — a fittingly coy way to end the show's bad-guy-triumphant Empire Strikes Back season), or Charlie and Claire (that kiss — an abrupt turnabout in their relationship, don't you think?), or Jin and Sun (even though their relationship is Lost's main source of human grounding).

No: The star-crossed lovers of Lost are Desmond and Penelope Widmore, the English heiress whose powerful and possibly Dharma Initiative-connected father Arthur Widmore (see: the Lost tie-in book Bad Twin) seems determined to make sure that his daughter and the lovelorn hatchman will never, ever be together.

In fact, you can forget Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, and the dozen other characters that we've come to know intimately well over the past two years. When Lost is all said and done, it will stand exposed as the story of Desmond and Penelope, two people we barely know, and the lengths these crazy kids will go to in order to be together again — and the lengths to which Daddy Big Bucks will go to keep them apart.

In my view, Desmond/Penelope has suddenly become the defining narrative thread of Lost. Everything else is a subplot within that larger context. I know this is a peculiar argument to make, since until now, Desmond has technically been a supporting character in the larger Jack arc, and a mere footnote in the broader island mythology. And who knows? Maybe he'll remain a marginal figure in terms of total screen time.

But Lost can be all about Desmond and Penelope even if it isn't literally all about Desmond and Penelope. Just ask Desmond's favorite author, Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities is a great example of a cast-of-thousands opus whose two main protagonists don't truly emerge until the second act of the novel. Desmond's progress in the season finale from a cynical, self-pitying drunken sot to an idealistic, self-sacrificing romantic hero reminded me of Two Cities' Sydney Carton; and as Desmond turned the fail-safe key in the final moments, I recalled Carton's famous final worlds: ''It is a far, far better thing than I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.''

As for Dickens' Our Mutual Friend — which Desmond designated as the last book he intended to read before he died — I must confess, I haven't read it. But my understanding is that the novel is a mosaic of characters and incidents, much like Lost. Moreover, the character that could be classified as its chief protagonist, the presumed-dead John Harmon, haunts Dickens' last completed work like a phantom; one source dubs Harmon the ''absent center'' of the story. That's a great description of how I view Desmond: He's the absent center of Lost. (At least, absent until now.)

By the way: I am told that the Big Twist in Our Mutual Friend — SPOILER ALERT! — is that Harmon adopts a new identity for the purpose of clandestinely evaluating the moral fiber of a woman whom he has to marry in order to claim his inheritance. Tests of character, subversive surveillance, false identities — that's Lost, too, isn't it? (Could it be that Arthur Widmore actually sent Desmond to the Island to test his worthiness as a husband to his daughter?)

[A tangent, but a relevant and maybe important one: Just like John Locke, Desmond's name could be another densely coded reference that Lost is becoming famous for. First of all, Desmond connects you to Desmond Morris, the writer, controversial scientist, and surrealist painter. His books The Human Zoo and Manwatching could be Dharma source texts. And then there's Desmond's last name — Hume. Did you all catch it on the envelopes of all the letters he had written to Penelope? Hume links you to yet another important philosopher, David Hume, who was influenced by John Locke, and who was also concerned with issues of ethics, identity, free will, and determinism. You know, the essential Lost themes.]

Lest I've crashed your brain with potentially wrong-headed references, I'd like to suggest one more possible Lost link. It's the main reason for the title of this theory. Anyone remember The Prisoner? If you've never seen this landmark cult pop series from the 1960s, spend the summer break from Lost becoming obsessed with it. In the infamous final episode of The Prisoner, Number Six has his own character-defining, key-turning moment. Moreover, he inspires a bloody revolt against his mysterious captors that plays out to the tune of the Beatles ''All You Need Is Love.'' The complicated and deeply symbolic climax of the show offers both an endorsement and critique of 1960s counterculture... but that's an essay for another time. The idea I want to leave you with today — an idea I promise to unpack in a future Doc Jensen column — is that Desmond is the Number Six of Lost, albeit an ironic version of the character. Like Number Six, he embodies the romantic pursuit of idealism in a marked-by-cynicism, dogmatic culture war, and manipulative power politics. But again: an essay for another time.

Regardless, here's my bottom line (for now): With the season finale's emphasis on Desmond, and with other Lost media suggesting that Desmond's Widmore-colored backstory is intertwined with the Hanso Foundation/Dharma Initiative mythology, a profound shift in focus has occurred: Lost is the Desmond-and-Penelope show now. And I think the series will be better for it. By introducing a more embraceable romantic hero to root for, and by recontextualizing the entire Lost saga around a more emotional narrative arc, the producers have given us something that we kinda desperately needed: a more conventional rubric for their unconventional ideas. The Desmond/Penelope storyline opens up the show and suggests new possibilities, not the least of which is this: the prospect of a happy ending. Through Desmond and Penelope, Jack and company now have reason to hope.

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Even though Lost is on summer holiday, Doc Jensen is not. Come back next week, when I give you my Dan Brown Theory of Lost. And in the coming weeks, we're going to explore this Lost Experience that's currently burning up the Web, plus I'm going to share with you a bunch of crazy new ideas, including my X-Men theory of Lost (preview: The Island = Dark Phoenix; The Button = Professor Xavier's psychic circuit breakers). (You X-Men fanboys know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.) Those slackers who run our favorite show may be taking a vacation — but I'm not. See you next week, kids.

Until then: TALK BACK!

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Originally posted May 26, 2006
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