This episode is one of my favorites, one of the episodes that made me, already impressed with LOST, think, wow, this is television at its finest, most emotionally powerful, most deep and symbolically rich and clever and interesting.
Daniel Faraday had emphasized the importance of staying precisely on course. The helicopter which Frank is flying and which is also carrying Desmond and Sayid is confronting a large thunderstorm. Suddenly, Private Desmond Hume is back in the military for a moment, and then he is back in the helicopter and doesn’t know who Sayid is or what he is doing there.
As those on the island worry about the helicopter, they ask Charlotte why she isn’t worried. She asks if she should wring her hands and say a prayer. Then Dan explains that the perception of how long they have been gone may not be how long they have been gone. But if they did not stay on course, there could be side effects.
The helicopter makes it to the boat, and then suddenly Desmond is back in the military, and then again back on the ship. They take him to the sickbay, and lock him in. There is another man there, who asks, “It’s happening to you too, isn’t it?”
Sayid calls the island. When he says what has happened to Desmond, Dan asks whether Desmond had been exposed to high levels of radiation or electromagnetism recently. He talks to Desmond on the phone, and asks him what year he thinks it is, and he says 1997. He tells him to get on a train when it next happens and to get on a train to Oxford and find him. Desmond is to tell him to set the device to 2.342, and make sure it oscillates at 11 Hz, and if the numbers don’t convince him, then he should tell him that he knows about Eloise. Desmond does just that. He suggests this might change the future, but Dan says that you can’t change the future. Dan shows Desmond a rat named Eloise, and unsticks her in time, just like Desmond. Eloise then quickly finds her way through a maze that she had not yet been taught how to run.
The other man in the sickbay is George Minkowski, the communications officer. He knows of Desmond because they had been getting calls, which they were not supposed to answer, from his girlfriend Penelope Widmore.
Back in the past in Oxford, the rat Eloise is dead. Demond asks Dan if that will happen to him. Dan says one needs an anchor in both times, a constant. Desmond asks if this constant can be a person. He tries to call Penny, but the number has been disconnected, and then he is back on the boat again. He wants to call Penny, but the equipment was sabotaged.
Back in the past, we see bidding for a journal belonging to someone named Hanso who was on the Black Rock. Charles Widmore is among the bidders, and is the highest bidder on it. Desmond talks to him, and asks how to reach Penny.
George takes them to the communication room, tells how this happened to him, then passes out, and dies. Sayid starts fixing the equipment, and Desmond notices a calendar indicating that it is 2004. Sayid says he didn’t realize it was almost Christmas.
Back in the past again, Desmond goes to see Penny. He asks for her number, saying he won’t call for eight years, on Christmas Eve 2004. She gives it to him. Then back in 2004, Desmond calls her. As he talks to her, he starts to remember. They tell each other they love one another, and after the call, he thanks Sayid by name.
The episode ends with Dan looking through his journal and seeing he wrote that if anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume will be his constant.
This episode makes one realize that LOST is a highly symbolic show, one that is happy to take a science fictional idea – such as becoming unstuck in time and needing to find an anchor in both the present and the past – and using it to say something about love, about our human need to find anchors, constants, in our lives. Myths are not powerful because they tie up all loose ends coherently, but because of the potency of their symbolism and the ways it resonates with our experience.