"Happily Ever After"
"You think you're happy. You think you've got it all--this, your life. But, you don't." -Charlie PaceThis episode is an analogy of contemporary culture. People are content, but not necessarily happy. They have material trappings, but lack connected relationships—and connections have defined this show. Contentment is the enemy in this episode. The characters in the flash-sideways have everything they could want—except their spirits.
The scene with Desmond and Charlie in the bar is as profound as the scene between Jacob and Ricardo on the beach in "Ab Aeterno." After having disregarded traffic as if it were not real, and ignoring Desmond's material temptations, Charlie explains that he saw of vision of something "real." He saw a woman, whose description matches Claire, and felt a sort of profound love. This vision stirred his soul and led him believe that the world was not real.
Upon hearing Drive Shaft's famous single, he sarcastically comments that that was the beginning of everything great. I got the distinct impression that things did go well for the band (they seem to still be together), but that Charlie somehow had a growing sense that it was too good to be true. This may be why he was taking drugs in the first place. It took a near-death experience to reveal the truth—Charlie's necessary fall from grace.
Charlie forces Desmond to have a vision of his own, not so much through a near-death experience as through a total diversion from the social norm. The car crashing into the water symbolically invokes the wilds, as it is both uncertain and unsafe. It is fitting then that Desmond should see a vision of the other timeline, where Charlie's hand bears the message "not Penny's boat."
Because of his vision, Desmond fails his mission of reining in the self-destructive rock star, and must explain himself to Mrs. Widmore. Despite her apparent reputation, she accepts Desmond's apology graciously. It is only when he shows interest in the name "Penny Milton" that she turns hostile, revealing a larger scheme.
She speaks in the age-old voice of an aristocrat who believes it's her duty to protect and satiate the ignorant masses. She is obviously annoyed that he is no longer content with having the thing he wanted most—Charles Widmore's approval. She tells him he is not ready and should stop looking.
Having hit a dead end, Desmond leaves only to be confronted by Daniel Widmore. He tells Desmond a story about love at first sight that echoes his own experiences and those described by Charlie. He reaffirms Charlie's suspicions that there is another world, because his vision enabled him (a classical musician) to draw a complex physics diagram—the one that described the incident.
After meeting Penny (with Daniel's help), Desmond is set on a path, which we can suspect might unite the two timelines. The choice that stands before each of them is to play the game of mediocrity or seek to change the game.
It may well be that they were meant for a harder, but more significant, life.
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