What makes “The Constant” from LOST an excellent, touching science fiction episode

“The Constant” is listed among the best episodes of “LOST”.

Lukasz Budnik

30 January 2023

lost the constant science fiction

In the fourth season, Lost was already a slightly different series than at the beginning of the broadcast. The hitherto dominant climate of survival on a mysterious island and discovering its secrets began to give way to ideas straight from science fiction productions (which culminated in season five, but that’s a topic for another occasion), and a large part of them revolved around the character of Desmond Hume, played by Henry Ian Cusick and introduced in the second season. Desmond was one of the most interesting characters in the entire series – not only because most of the episodes devoted to him eluded the patterns that govern Lost, but also because of the excellent and poignant romantic plot. Both of these things are perfectly connected by The Constant, widely regarded as one of the best episodes in the entire series.

Fascinating storyline

While the plot of The Constant is a continuation of the events of the previous episodes, it can also be considered as a closed whole with an introduction, development and conclusion (although of course you still need to know the rest of the series to fully appreciate the story). During Desmond, Sayid and Frank’s helicopter flight to the freighter – precisely according to the coordinates given to the pilot by scientist Daniel Faraday – an anomaly occurs, causing Desmond’s consciousness to start jumping between 2004 and 1996. The events of the past are not shown in the form of flashbacks characteristic of the series – they are an integral part of the plot, both concerning Desmond from the past and the present, as they are aware of the skips and influence each other’s actions, although they are both confused and scared. This fascinating concept is part of the science fiction climate I wrote about in the previous paragraph, and is brilliantly shown on the screen – the events from both timelines intertwine, which has been splendidly edited.

lost the constant science fiction

During the episode, Desmond learns that the stakes are high – if he fails to stop his consciousness spikes, his brain will fail and he will die (which happens to one of the ship’s crew). Instructed by Daniel Faraday, who orders him to find his younger self in 1996, Desmond learns that in order to stop the jumps, he must make contact with his eponymous constant in the present – an object or person that exists in both timelines. Desmond has no doubt that his constant is Penny – the love of his life, with whom he unfortunately fell out years earlier. In 1996, she doesn’t talk to him after he broke up with her, and in the present, they last had contact before Desmond got on the island. Fortunately, a telephone is available on the freighter – the key is to get Penny’s number, which must be dealt with by 1996 Desmond.

A phone call that made television history

Penny and Desmond’s love story, consistently built since the season 2 finale of Lost, is brilliantly written. Thanks to flashbacks from various stages of their acquaintance, as viewers, we knew perfectly well that they were both destined for each other and loved each other, and although fate threw obstacles at their feet, we strongly hoped that they would finally find each other. The scene of their phone conversation in The Constant, which takes place in the last minutes of the episode, is the first contact between these characters in 3 years, and also the first time we see them talking in the present, not in a flashback. It is also one of the most beautiful and emotional scenes in the entire series (and perhaps in the history of television). It was perfectly written and played by Cusick and Sonya Walger, and additionally illustrated with a beautiful piece by Michael Giacchino. Each word spoken by the characters is a bomb of feelings for them and an expression of the longing they have felt for years, and for us as the audience, the joy that they finally have a chance to hear each other, express their love and assure that they will find each other. An extremely touching and satisfying scene, and very important in the long run, because it is thanks to Desmond’s phone that Penny will be able to find him later.

lost the constant science fiction

Writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (responsible for this and many other critically acclaimed episodes in the series) call The Constant their favorite LOST installment. The episode also has a very high viewer rating on IMDb (9.7/10), which is no surprise to me. It’s a brilliant story that works both as a standalone storyline and as part of the entire series, deftly deploying a compelling concept and culminating in one of the best and poignant scenes in the format’s history. Next month it will be 15 years since this episode aired, and it remains one of my favorite television accomplishments and proof of just how great a show LOST can be at its best.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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