The mystery of what happened to Desmond when he turned failsafe key is revealed, allowing Desmond to make a shocking prediction about Charlie. (Includes My Theory about Course Correction!)

Written by Damon Lindelof & Drew Goddard
Directed by Jack Bender

Flashback

The moment he turned the failsafe key in the Swan station, Desmond’s consciousness traveled back through time to a moment from his own past. Throughout the events that he relived in the past, Desmond kept witnessing odd coincidences, references back to the things he saw and did on the island — or rather, would do in the future. It was a time back two years before he joined the military (and was subsequently discharged after imprisonment), when he and Penny were still a couple living in England.

In the past, Desmond had an appointment at Widmore Industries with Penny’s father, Charles Widmore, where the two of them met for the first time. Penny believed Desmond was going to interview for a job, but in reality he went to ask for Widmore’s blessing over his planned proposal to Penny. Though the two of them seemed to hit it off, Widmore was merely biding his time, waiting to lower the boom on Desmond by demonstrating that Desmond was not “a great man” and therefore not worthy of his daughter. When Desmond left Widmore’s office in anger, he was shocked to encounter Charlie playing his guitar out on the streets of London.

Desmond visited a friend, a scientist named Donovan, with whom he shared his entire story at a local pub and asked his thoughts about time travel. Donovan didn’t buy Desmond’s tale, so he attempted to demonstrate his ability to remember everything by showing him things he remembered. But things didn’t play out the way he recalled.

The next day, Desmond visited a jewelry store, intending to buy a wedding ring for Penny and go through with his marriage proposal this time around, because the first time he chickened out. But the proprietor, a peculiar woman named Mrs. Hawking, revealed that she knew not only who he was, but also all about his future on the island, and that he had traveled back through time. She tried to dissuade him from buying the ring, insisting that Desmond had to ensure that the future played out the way it did before or “every single one of us is dead,” but Desmond wouldn’t hear it and bought the ring anyway. She explained to him that attempting to change the past is a futile effort, because “the universe has a way of course-correcting.” Mrs. Hawking said that the island was where his path would lead him, and that “pushing that button is the only truly great thing you will ever do.” But he defied her by taking the ring anyway.

Later, when he met up with Penny, the two of them passed by a street vendor who offered to take their photograph with a scenic backdrop, and Penny accepted. It turned out to be the photo that Desmond would take with him to the island, of the two of them standing in front of a marina. Looking at the photo, Desmond realized that Mrs. Hawking was right, that he was going to end back up on the island no matter what he did and that he and Penny simply weren’t supposed to be together. He broke things off with her and threw the engagement ring into the Thames.

When Desmond later visited the local pub and saw the events he expected to play out before with his friend Donovan, he realized he’d just gotten the date wrong. Which mean he could still change things with Penny after all. But when he was about to leave to find Penny and fix everything, he was accidentally knocked out in the pub, and his consciousness was transported back to the present-day island, where he woke up in the jungle, naked and brokenhearted at having failed to get things right with Penny for the second time.

Now

As Charlie and Hurley set about going through Sawyer’s stash for supplies, Desmond approaches and asks them to join him. He takes them to see Locke and Sayid in the jungle, who inform them that Eko’s dead. Locke insists that “the island killed him,” which Charlie clarifies to mean the monster. As they’re talking, Desmond gets a premonition and then frantically runs off back to the beach. As everyone watches in shock, he jumps into the ocean and swims out for what seems to be no reason — until they see that someone else is far out in the ocean too. It’s Claire! And she’s not breathing. Desmond retrieves her and performs CPR, resuscitating her. As Desmond carries her back off to her tent, Charlie shouts after him, asking how Desmond knew Claire was drowning when they were out in the jungle. Hurley informs him that Desmond can see the future.

Charlie and Hurley devise a plan to get the truth out of Desmond about how he’s able to see the future: they intend to get him drunk. When Desmond sees the alcohol they’ve brought him — a Scottish brand called MacCutcheon, which reminds him of something — he agrees to share a drink with them. By that night, they’re drunk and singing drinking songs. Charlie picks his moment carefully and finally asks his question: how did Desmond know Claire was drowning? He plays it down at first, until Charlie goads him by calling him a coward. Desmond tackles Charlie and tells him he doesn’t want to know what happened when he turned the failsafe key beneath the Swan station. During that remarkable experience (see below), he learned that destiny can’t be changed. He rants on and on about how things can’t be changed, no matter how hard you try.

Charlie takes Desmond back to his tent, where Desmond explains that after the failsafe key was turned, he saw his life flash before his eye. But when he woke up in the jungle, the flashes didn’t stop. He’s been seeing the future again and again, but Charlie is stunned to learn that Desmond’s flashes aren’t about Claire. They’re about Charlie. Each time he’s prevented harm from coming to Claire it’s because Charlie was close to her — he was trying to save Charlie from dying. But, as he tells Charlie, he knows that the day is going to come when something happens and he won’t be able to stop it. One way or another, Charlie is going to die soon.

  • The Swan station’s implosion somehow transported Desmond’s consciousness several years back in time, allowing him to relive events from his past, and even attempt to change them. But eventually his consciousness was brought back to the present, where Desmond was seemingly reborn. So in a sense, he did die during the implosion. Temporarily.
    Question: Why didn’t Desmond die in the implosion of the Swan station? [3.03]
  • Though it’s never properly explained, the conjecture we’re meant to make is that the metaphysical events at the Swan implosion and Desmond’s travel through time caused him to be, in a sense, reborn. And like all newborns, he first appeared naked.
    Question: How did Desmond wind up naked after the Swan station’s implosion? Did the blast disintegrate his clothes somehow? [3.03]
  • According to Desmond’s ability to see the future, Charlie is going to die.
    Question: What was Boone referring to when he said that Charlie, Claire, and Aaron would be fine “for a while”? Is something going to happen to them? [3.03]

  • Who is Mrs. Hawking?
  • How did she just happen to meet Desmond on such an auspicious day in his past? Did she plan the meeting?
  • How did Mrs. Hawking know so much about Desmond’s future? Does she possess the same gift that Desmond now seems to — the ability see the future before it happens?
  • Was Mrs. Hawking right that “the only truly great thing” Desmond would ever do is pushing button on the Swan station computer?
  • Why do all of Desmond’s visions of the future revolve around Charlie and his impending death?
  • Is Charlie is going to die in the near future, as Desmond predicted?


“Flashes Before Your Eyes” is the second Desmond-centric episode of the series.

Like “The Other 48 Days” before it, “Flashes Before Your Eyes” breaks with the show’s traditional flashback format by presenting a series of flashbacks that occur without being framed by scenes from the present-day story on the island. Once Desmond decides to share his story with Charlie and Hurley, we see nothing but his time-traveling flashback all in one long narrative stretch.

Widmore’s office held a particularly big hint that Widmore knew all about the island and had a connection to it: a painting bearing a polar bear and the word “Namaste.” Looking back at it now, it’s a wonder most of us didn’t realize that Widmore was one of the Others long before it was revealed in Season 5.

My Theory about Course Correction: This episode really lays the groundwork for a lot of what would happen in Season 5 and Season 6 of the show. In particular, it was the first instance when time travel was used as a major plot device. It introduced us to Eloise Hawking. And it laid down the major tenet that would become so important in Season 5: that changing the past is impossible due to the universe’s built-in “course-correction.” Season 6, it would appear, is going to be about testing Mrs. Hawking’s conviction about time travel. It certainly looks as if Jack, Juliet, and everyone else managed to change their fates in 1977, altering history in a very thorough fashion. I still maintain my belief that Season 6 is going to present to us two alternate but concurrent views of reality: the one we already know, that we’ve been watching for the last 5 years, and this new one that’s been created thanks to the history-altering events of 1977. And that eventually, our heroes will be made aware of the dual nature of their reality and will be forced to make a choice, likely because the two opposing realities violate the laws of physics. However… There is a second possibility regarding what we could see play out in Season 6. Eloise Hawking — and later her son Daniel Faraday — was absolutely adamant that history could not be changed. Small things could be altered, like the red shoe-wearing man she could have saved in this episode, but he would have wound up dead anyway. What she’s ultimately is that you can’t cheat fate. You may be able to change some small things along the way, but the end result will always be the same. If the 1977 survivors managed to change some very big things, then the question becomes: can the universe still find a way to course-correct for 30 years of altered history? This may be the shape of Season 6 — trying to hold onto the changes made, and ultimately realizing that fate cannot be escaped from. Which would mean that if history isn’t restored to its original version, then somewhere along the way, all of the main survivors will eventually wind up right back on the island again.

I still wonder to this day why Desmond’s visions of the future always revolved around Charlie’s death. Why didn’t he ever see anything else? Mrs. Hawking, it seems, can see all sorts of things about the future, about lots of different people, and I always assumed that their abilities were connected somehow. But once Charlie died at the end of Season 3, it would appear that Desmond’s precognitive abilities died with him. Since that time, we’ve never seen him peek into the future again.