Desmond is subjected to a dangerous procedure after he wakes up and finds that Charles Widmore has brought him back to the island.

“Happily Ever After” is an enormous, world-shattering, game-changing episode was hailed as a classic almost immediately after it aired. In other words, it’s another episode from Season 6!

After disembarking from Oceanic 815, Desmond stares blankly into a flatscreen monitor at the airport, wistfully examining his own reflection. Hurley walks by and assumes that Desmond is checking the monitor to find out which carousel his bags will be on, and tells him it’s Carousel 4.

At the carousel, Desmond helps Claire retrieve her bag when it becomes stuck. They talk briefly about whether her baby is a boy or a girl, and she says she doesn’t know yet. He remarks that he’s “not a big fan of surprises.” When Claire seems to be looking for someone she can’t find, Desmond asks if someone’s coming to pick her up. She says yes, but they must’ve gotten the flights mixed up or something. He offers to give her a lift in the car that’s coming for him, but she passes. Before they part, he guesses that her baby’s going to be a boy.

Exiting the airport, Desmond is met by his driver, George Minkowski (who we remember as the radio operator from the freighter). George makes small talk as they walk to the car, and asks Desmond what he was doing in Australia. Desmond says he was “closing a deal for the boss.” George tells Desmond that if there’s anything at all he needs while he’s in L.A., that George can make it happen. He even offers to help Desmond find some “female companionship” if he’s in the market for that sort of thing, but although Desmond isn’t married, he’s only interested in his work.

George takes Desmond to a lavish office building, where he’s ushered into the boss’ enormous office. The boss turns out to be Charles Widmore, who warmly welcomes Desmond to Los Angeles and even embraces him as a treasured friend! A few minutes later, Widmore tells Desmond that their celebration of his success in Australia is about to be cut short. Widmore’s wife is holding a charity event at which their son Daniel — a talented musician — is supposed to hold a concert. Daniel, he explains, has come up with “this crazy notion” of putting together classical music with modern rock, and the band Drive Shaft has been hired to provide the modern rock part of the performance. But as we already know, Drive Shaft bassist Charlie Pace was arrested on his flight to L.A., when he nearly died from a Heroin overdose. So he sends Desmond to pick up Charlie from the police department and deliver him to the charity concert. Even though a task of this nature is considered “beneath” Desmond’s talents, he graciously agrees to do it. Widmore commends Desmond for his simple life, “free of attachments” like a family of his own. Widmore offers Desmond a drink of McCutcheon’s 60-year-old scotch, to celebrate Desmond’s “indispensability.” Desmond protests that the scotch shouldn’t be wasted so frivolously, but Widmore concludes that “nothing’s too good” for his friend.

Desmond drives down to the court house to retrieve Charlie, but when they meet, Charlie ignores him entirely and walks across the street — out in front of oncoming traffic, which slams on brakes repeatedly to avoid hitting him — and enters a bar.

Desmond follows him, agreeing to a single drink, and then the two of them will hae to go to the concert. Charlie asks about what Desmond does for Widmore, but then he asks if Desmond is happy. When Desmond says he is, Charlie says he really isn’t happy at all. He asks if Desmond’s ever been in love, truly in “spectacular, consciousness-altering love.” Charlie says he knows what that kind of love looks like, and that he saw it on the plane he took from Sydney. Desmond says he was on the same flight, so maybe he saw it too, but Charlie says he definitely didn’t. He explains that the Marshall escorting a woman on the plane (Kate) noticed him, knew that he had drugs on him, and Charlie could tell that the Marshall was planning to arrest him. So he went to the bathroom to dispose of the drugs by swallowing them. Just then, the plane hit turbulence and he choked, and he felt himself dying. But just as everything was going dark, he saw a blonde, “rapturously beautiful” woman, who he’d never met before, yet he knew her completely, and they were together (Claire!). They were in true love, and he was about to be engulfed in that feeling, when Jack resuscitated him on the plane. Desmond is highly skeptical of his story, but Charlie insists that he saw “something real, something true.” Finally Desmond convinces him to come with him back to the concert.

In the car, Charlie tells Desmond that he feels sorry for him. Desmond thinks he has it all, the perfect life, but Charlie knows that he doesn’t. When Desmond again doesn’t believe him, Charlie takes matters into his own hands, and grabs the steering wheel, saying he’s going to show Desmond what he’s talking about. Charlie pulls on the wheel until the two of them go sailing off the edge of the road and right into a marina. The car sinks into the water almost immediately, and Desmond frees himself, but finds that Charlie’s seatbelt is stuck, and Charlie himself is unconscious, seemingly knocked out by the crash into the water. Desmond rises to the surface and gets a deep lungful of air, before diving back down again to try to rescue Charlie. He swims up beside Charlie’s side window, and Charlie suddenly comes to life, turning to him and placing his open hand up against the window for Desmond to see. It’s a very familiar gesture, and the sight of it suddenly triggers a flash into the other reality — Desmond recalls a similar situation, where Charlie placed his hand against another glass window, and on his palm he’d written the words “Not Penny’s Boat.” Desmond’s stunned by what he sees, but he recovers quickly and wrenches Charlie free from the car. He carries Charlie to the surface and calls out for help.

Later, Desmond is checked out at the hospital, where he’s told his CAT scan was inconclusive, so they’re going to send him to get an MRI. Desmond only wants to find Charlie to find out what happened to him underwater, but the doctor refuses to let him leave until they’ve examined him fully. In the MRI room, Desmond is strapped into the massive machine and told it will take thirty minutes to run the scan. The technician gives him a panic button in case he should freak out inside the claustrophobic machine, and he’s slid inside. The MRI machine is fired up, and immediately, Desmond begins seeing flashes into the other reality — mostly of Penny and his life with her, as well as their son. He snaps out of it suddenly and hits the panic button, demanding to be freed from the machine. When the tech pulls him out, he leaves the room, on a mission to find Charlie.

The admittance clerk gives Desmond the runaround, but then he spots Jack, who’s there working. He recognizes him from the flight, and Jack recognizes Desmond as well. Desmond asks for his help in finding Charlie, but before Jack can respond, Charlie suddenly appears down the hall, on the run from his nurse. Charlie passes right by the two of them, and Desmond takes up the chase, following him down several flights of stairs to a private waiting room.

When they’re alone, Desmond asks why Charlie’s running; Charlie replies that no one at the hospital can help him. Desmond asks why Charlie tried to kill him, but Charlie says he was only trying to show Desmond the truth. Desmond looks at Charlie’s hand, trying to find the words he saw written on it underwater, but it’s not there. Charlie realizes that it worked, that Desmond saw something just like he did. Desmond asks who “Penny” is, but Charlie doesn’t know. Desmond is confused, but Charlie understands that Desmond “felt it.” Desmond wants to take him to the charity concert, but Charlie has no interest in such things. His experience on the plane was a revelation, and he tells Desmond that “none of this matters.” All that matters is what he saw and felt on the plane. Charlie starts to leave, and Desmond asks where he’s going, but Charlie says not to worry about him, and suggests he start looking for Penny instead.

Desmond calls Widmore to give him the bad news: Charlie escaped. Widmore’s irate, and orders him to go down to the charity event and inform “Mrs. Widmore” of his failure. George drives him to the outdoor event, which is being set up under a massive tent. He offers Desmond a morbid “good luck” when Desmond sets off to meet Mrs. Widmore for the first time.

Under the tent, Desmond finds Widmore’s wife — Eloise (Hawking!) — dressing down a caterer for not setting a table properly. He introduces himself, and she’s surprisingly gracious toward him, even insisting that he call her Eloise. She’s unperturbed when he reports the bad news about losing Charlie, and he’s stunned that she’s not angry. “What happened, happened,” she tells him, and bids him a pleasant thanks for his trouble.

As he’s leaving, Desmond passes a trio of people going over the invitation list, and one of the names they call out catches his ear: Penny Milton. He asks to see the list, explaining that he works for Widmore, but Eloise intervenes, snatches the list away, and tells him he “absolutely may not” see it, because it’s confidential. He argues that he’s entrusted with her husband’s confidential items every day, but she orders him to come speak with her in private.

Away from everyone else, Eloise is as cryptic as ever as she tells him to stop pursuing this. “Someone has clearly effected the way you see things; this is a serious problem,” she says. “It is, in fact, a violation. So whatever you’re doing, whatever it is you think you’re looking for, you need to stop looking for it.” Desmond’s stunned, and asks if she knows what he’s looking for. She replies, “I don’t know why you’re looking for anything. You have the perfect life! On top of it, you’ve managed to attain the thing you’ve wanted more than anything: my husband’s approval.” Desmond asks how she knows what he wants more than anything. She says she just does. He demands answers, but she tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s “not ready yet.” As he asks “ready for what?” she walks away.

Back at the car, Desmond pours himself a drink to help shake off his bizarre encounter with Eloise. Just as the car is about to leave, someone knocks on Desmond’s window. He rolls it down, and it’s Daniel! “My name is Daniel Widmore,” he tells Desmond, and says that they need to talk.

Daniel takes Desmond to a secluded bench, where no one can overhear them. He asks if Desmond believes in love at first sight. He says that he recently experienced that very thing when he saw a woman while visiting a local museum. He describes her as having blue eyes and red hair, and we know he’s of course talking about Charlotte Lewis. He says that as soon as he saw her, that right in that moment, it was like he already loved her. “And that’s when things got weird,” he explains. He pulls out a familiar-looking leather journal, and opens it to a specific page. He shows it to Desmond and says that the same night he saw Charlotte, he woke up and wrote something in his journal. Desmond looks at a series of very complex, very advanced diagrams. Daniel says he’s a musician and he has no idea what these diagrams mean. So he took it to a friend at CalTech, who identified it as quantum mechanics, with equations so advanced that only someone who’d studied quantum physics their entire life could come up with them. Desmond asks what this means, and Daniel tries to explain. “Imagine something terrible was about to happen, something catastrophic. And the only way to stop it from happening was by releasing a huge amount of energy. Like setting off a nuclear bomb.” Desmond is almost amused, and asks if Daniel seriously wants to set off a nuclear bomb. Daniel replies, “What if all this wasn’t supposed to be our life? What if we had some other life, but for some reason, we changed things? I don’t want to set off a nuclear bomb — I think I already did.” Now Desmond is listening, because suddenly the strange things he’s been experiencing are starting to make sense. Still he plays it down, and says he doesn’t know what any of this has to do with him. Daniel asks why Desmond inquired with his mother about a woman named Penny. “It happened to you too, didn’t it? You felt it… You felt love.” Desmond says that’s impossible, because the woman he saw may not even exist. He doesn’t know who she is or where she is. “She’s an idea,” he says. But Daniel’s smiling as he listens to Desmond, and when Desmond’s done, Daniel says, “She’s my half-sister. And I can tell you exactly where and when you can find her.”

Desmond’s thunderstruck, but he follows Daniel’s instructions to a very familiar stadium that night. A woman is exercising by running up the endless steps, and Desmond can’t quite believe it when he realizes that this is her — it’s Penny. He approaches her and it’s love at first sight, all over again. He asks if she’s Penny, and she says yes. He introduces himself as Desmond, and shakes her hand. The second their hands touch, Desmond passes out (and reawakens on the island following the test in the box).

A few minutes later, he wakes back up to find Penny standing over him, asking if he’s okay. She says he fainted when she shook his hand. “I must’ve had quite an effect on you,” she jokes, and the two of them look one another closely in the eye, smiling. She asks if they’ve ever met before, but he says they’d remember if they had. As she’s about to leave, he asks her to coffee. She’s surprised but obviously feeling the same love-at-first-sight that he is, and agrees to meet him at a local café in an hour.

All smiles, Desmond returns to the limo, on top of the world. Inside, George asks if he found what he was looking for, and Desmond grins as he says that he did indeed. He asks George to take him to the coffee shop, but when George again offers to get him anything he wants, Desmond makes another request. He wants the passenger manifest from Oceanic 815. George says sure, but then asks what Desmond needs it for. “I just need to show them something,” Desmond replies knowingly.

Desmond wakes up to the bedside ministrations of Zoe, Widmore’s employee, who informs him that he’s been unconscious for three days, and that he’s been moved from the hospital. Desmond asks where he is, and where Penny is, and Widmore steps up, informing him that that’s not possible. Desmond can’t believe his eyes, but Widmore tries to help Desmond remember that Ben shot him and he was taken to the hospital. Widmore informs him that from there, he abducted Desmond, because he knew that Desmond would never agree to go where Widmore’s brought him: back to the island. Desmond flies into a rage, and pummels Widmore with an I.V. stand, until Widmore’s men jump in and restrain him. Desmond demands to be taken back off the island to his wife and son, but Widmore says he can’t, echoing Eloise Hawking’s last words to Desmond, that “the island isn’t done with you yet.”

Outside Desmond’s room (they’re in the Hydra station), Jin asks Widmore why Desmond is here. Widmore says it would be easier to show him than to tell him. He orders Zoe to take Jin with her to the generator room, and to prepare to start “the first test.” She protests that that test wasn’t scheduled until tomorrow, but he says to do it now.

On their way to the generator room, Zoe and Jin pass by an enormous rectangular shed Widmore’s people have built and hooked up to a lot of heavy electrical lines. Inside the generator room, Zoe’s friend Seamus says they’re not ready for the test yet, but Zoe tells him Widmore is insisting on doing it now. They activate the generator but it doesn’t kick in, so Seamus sends a guy named Simmons down to the rectangular box outside to check the connections there. Seamus turns to a caged white rabbit sitting nearby and tells it that it’s going inside the box next.

While Simmons is running tests on two enormous electromagnets inside the box, another tech finds the problem back in the control room and fixes it. But Simmons is still inside the box outside, and the electromagnets activate. Zoe and Seamus yell for the generator to be switched off, and run outside once it’s done. Jin follows, and the three of them discover Simmons dead inside the box, his body burned to a crisp.

Widmore arrives, but he merely asks Zoe if they’re ready to conduct the test. Behind him, Desmond is being manhandled, dragged to the entrance of the box. He spots the dead man on the ground, whose body is still smoking, and recoils.

After Simmons’ body is hauled out, Widmore orders Desmond taken inside and tied down to a chair situated between the two electromagnets. While Desmond struggles, Widmore says that he knows how this looks, but if everything he’s heard about Desmond is true, he’ll be fine. Widmore says that once this test is over, he’s going to ask Desmond to make a sacrifice. Desmond asks Widmore what he knows about sacrifice, and Widmore points out that his son (Daniel Faraday) died for the sake of this island, that his own daughter hates him, and that he has a grandson he’s never met. Widmore says that if Desmond won’t help him, it will have all been for nothing, and that Penny and Charlie will be gone forever. They leave Desmond alone inside the box and seal it off.

Back in the generator room, Widmore returns and tells them to fire it up. Jin protests, telling Widmore that if he wants his help, he’s going to have to explain why he’s risking Desmond’s life. “That man is the only person I’m aware of in the world who has survived a catastrophic electromagnetic event. I need to know that he can do it again, or we all die.” Seamus fires up the machine but can’t quite bring himself to pull the final trigger, after what happened to Simmons, so Widmore steps in and does it himself.

When the two electromagnetic coils are fired up, Desmond tries desperately to escape, but it’s too late. The coils hit full power and Desmond’s entire world turns white…

And suddenly, he’s Sideways Desmond, in the Sideways reality. (See above.)

A few seconds after he passes out, Desmond awakens inside the box to find that he’s survived, just as Widmore predicted he would. Widmore and his people pile into the box and examine him, but he’s changed, due to what he experienced in the Sideways reality. Widmore helps him to his feet, and again apologizes for doing this to him, but when he’s about to explain what this is all about, Desmond stops him. He says he understands, and whatever Widmore wants him to do, he’ll do it.

Zoe and some of her people escort Desmond back to his room, and while they walk, Zoe asks what happened to him when he passed out, noting the drastic change in his behavior. Desmond is amused but cagey about his experience, and as they continue to walk, Sayid suddenly appears from behind and takes down the two men who were helping Zoe. He turns a gun on her and tells her to run, which she does. Sayid tells Desmond these people are dangerous and that they need to go now, and Desmond calmly agrees.

  • Somehow, Eloise knew that Desmond would need to go back to the island, to play a crucial role in the war against the Man in Black.
    What did Eloise mean when she said the island “isn’t yet finished” with Desmond? [5.06]
  • In the Sideways reality, Desmond has a completely different history than the Desmond we know. He is right-hand-man and best of friends with Charles Widmore, and up until now, has never met Penny. He was on Oceanic 815 returning from Australia, where he sealed a lucrative deal of some kind with someone or some company there, on Widmore’s behalf.
    Sideways Reality: What was Desmond doing on Oceanic 815? [6.01]

  • What sacrifice is Widmore planning to ask Desmond to make?
  • Sideways reality: Why did almost dying give Charlie (and Desmond) a glimpse into the other reality? Is death some kind of bridge between the two realities?
  • Sideways reality: How much does Eloise know about what’s really going on? How does she know it? And why is she carrying on as if the original reality never existed, even though she knows it did/does?

Jiminy Cricket, what an amazing episode!

Couldn’t help loving all of the wonderful little nods to past episodes, like the white rabbit in the generator room, or the conspicuous differences in Widmore’s office, like the sailboat that was reminiscent of the one Desmond sailed around the world. (Even though the last office of his we saw was in London, Sideways Widmore clearly lives and operates in Los Angeles, so the location is ultimately beside the point. His office is his office.)

Did you notice the painting on Widmore’s wall of the scale holding one white rock and one black rock? That’s a clear reference to Jacob and the Man in Black, so I wonder if Sideways Widmore stayed on the island long enough — before it was sunk to the bottom of the ocean — to learn the truth about these two individuals. If nothing else, the painting (assuming it’s not just a meaningless wink at the audience) confirms that both Jacob and the Man in Black exist, or at one time existed, in the Sideways world.

It was nice to see the stadium again, where Jack and Desmond first met, and the twist of having Penny be the one using it for exercise was brilliant. And the McCutcheon’s scotch was a direct shout-out to Season 3’s “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” and the scene of Desmond and Widmore’s first meeting, where Widmore coldly informed Desmond that a single swallow of McCutcheon’s was worth more than Desmond himself.

Speaking of “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” a lot of the events from this episode seemed to parallel that one. As in “Flashes”‘ flashback story, “Happily Ever After” consisted of a single, long flash-Sideways story that was bookended by brief scenes on the island. Both episodes featured Desmond meeting Widmore in his office, encountering Charlie, and meeting Eloise Hawking for the first time. In both episodes, she knew a lot more about what was going on than he did, and she gave him specific, if vague and rather irritable, instructions on what he must and must not do, without telling him why.

Am I surprised that Eloise appears to be the one person in all the world that knows the full truth about the Sideways reality? No, I’m not. Do I want to know more about why she always knows so much? Heck yeah! We are long overdue for the Eloise Hawking story, though it’s probably too much to hope for at this point that she might get a full episode of her own, like Richard did.

I didn’t catch it the first time, but go back and watch the moment when Desmond first introduces himself to Eloise. When she turns and lays eyes on him, a moment of unmistakable recognition passes over her features — followed by a brief flash of what looks like panic. She recovers from it so fast it’s easy to miss, but it’s definitely there.

Of greatest interest to me in the Eloise scene was the fact that she appeared to want the Sideways reality to exist. Even though I’m guessing she knows the full truth about it, she doesn’t want Desmond doing anything to upset the basket and change anything. She probably prefers the Sideways reality because she got her son back, but is there more to it than that? Eloise has always been a stickler for doing the right thing despite the cost — she sacrificed her own son for the good of the island — so I wonder if she knows something we don’t about the Sideways reality. Like maybe how it got this way, and that it’s not supposed to be changed back?

Because I know some of you will require an explanation for Penny in the Sideways reality, here you go: In the original reality, Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking were a serious item on the island. Eloise became pregnant with their son Daniel, and for unknown reasons, left the island to raise him alone. Widmore stayed behind, and became leader of the Others in her place, a position he held for a long time. Somewhere along the way, he began leaving the island regularly and took up a relationship with someone off the island — a relationship that resulted in his daughter, Penny. Thus, Penny and Daniel grew up never knowing that they were half-siblings. In the Sideways reality, it looks as if Widmore and Eloise escaped the island together before it was sunk, and that they stayed together, even getting married. Penny, who is Widmore’s daughter but not Eloise’s, can only be explained by Widmore engaging in an affair with another woman at some point, probably not too long after he left the island (based on Penny’s age). Maybe he cheated on Eloise, or maybe they broke up for a while and he had another relationship before they reconciled and married. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to the overall story. All that matters is that Penny exists in this timeline, even though the circumstances of her birth and life are very different than they were before.

In addition to all of the acknowledgments to Lost trivia past, there were also several parallels between the two timelines. Desmond was similarly asked about metal objects on his body in both, before being strapped to an electromagnetic machine. And did anyone else notice that the scar on Sideways Desmond’s head after the car crash was almost identical to the one he gave to Widmore in the original reality?

When Sideways Charlie started talking about Desmond never having anything “real,” I assumed he was lamenting his lost career or some long ago love affair. But suddenly things turned shockingly metaphysical when it became clear that he was, in effect, telling Desmond that the world they inhabit isn’t supposed to be. What’s “real” is the other reality, and in catching a glimpse of that, he saw his love for Claire.

Somehow it all comes back to love. Nearing death in the Sideways world offers glimpses into the other reality, but it’s love that’s the key to the whole thing. Everyone who sees into the other reality, sees the person they love the most. Charlie saw Claire. Desmond saw Penny. Daniel’s past-life memories were triggered by a chance meeting with Charlotte.

Speaking of nearing death… I still think Juliet saw into the Sideways world as she was dying in Sawyer’s arms. So does it work both ways? Do people who die in one reality get to see truth about the dual nature of reality? And has it always been this way? Did Boone, Shannon, Eko, Charlie, Libby, Michael, and all the others who’ve died on the island get to see into the Sideways world as they breathed their last? Or is this something that’s only happened since the castaways detonated the hydrogen bomb? Aka, something that’s only happening in Season 6?

We’ve seen plenty of people die on the island, and that death doesn’t seem to have any effect on the Sideways reality. But one thing we’ve yet to see is what happens if someone dies in the Sideways reality. Will that have an effect on the island reality? Ah, the mind could go mad trying to figure all this out and what it means!

I bet I can tell you who the next person to “feel it” in the Sideways reality will be. Think back — who among the castaways is nearest to death’s door? That’d be Sun, of course, after her shooting last week.

Obviously, love is one of Lost‘s major themes. It always has been. It’s the thing that has always driven these characters to do what they do. Michael was doggedly determined to escape from the island because of his love for his son. Sayid’s only real desire in life has ever been to find and be with Nadia. Charlie gave his life so that Claire would have a chance to escape the island. Sawyer wanted to avenge his parents’ deaths. Jack wanted to measure up to his father’s expectations. Kate committed murder to keep her mother from suffering under her stepfather’s abuse. Look back at every single character on the show, and you will find love in one form or another to be the root cause for their motivations. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise if love is ultimately what Lost winds up being all about.

All season, we’ve been seeing the Sideways characters catch just the slightest hint of a peek into the original reality, when they’ve stared into mirrors. But we didn’t know at the time that Charlie saw a lot more than a peek when he was dying in the lavatory on Oceanic 815 — until Jack saved him. (His “You should have let me die” remark to Jack upon disembarking from the plane is now seen in a completely different light.) Now Desmond has done the same, and even Daniel has seen it, too. Are all of the Sideways characters secretly starting to see into the other reality? (And if they’re not yet, it looks like they’re about to, if Sideways Desmond does what he means to do.)

What will they do with this knowledge? And what will the Desmond that’s on the island do now that he is the first and only person in that reality (that we know of) to know of the other reality’s existence?

It’s such a tightrope that the writers are walking with this dual reality storyline. I think we’re all proceeding on the assumption that in the end, only one of these realities can exist. Which means that they have to write both realities in ways that ensure that none of the events that happen in either one, are things that happen in vain. No viewer wants to waste his or her time watching events unfold that are ultimately going to be erased, and won’t matter to the resolution of the story. So the real challenge facing Lost‘s writers is resolving these two realities in such a way that neither is rendered pointless. Both have to matter equally in the end, even if only one survives. That’s going to be quite a trick to pull off.

It’s amazing to me that eleven episodes in, we still don’t know how the Sideways reality came to be. Or even if it’s the secondary reality. What if the Sideways world is the original one, and Desmond rallies everyone together to change things over to the reality we know? Maybe Sideways Desmond and Charlie were sensing the way the world was supposed to be, and their actions are going to somehow create the reality we’ve been watching for the last six seasons. Or maybe the detonation of the hydrogen bomb really did work and it created the Sideways world, but now Desmond & Co. are going to fix things back to the way they were — an action that brings the original reality back around the start of Season 6, and that’s why it appears to the island castaways that their plan didn’t work when they were transported from 1977 to 2007. There are so many possibilities…

The explanation could be anything, although the subtle clues we were given in this episode point to the Sideways world as being the “secondary” one, the one that was created by an alteration to the original timeline. Daniel’s “memory” of detonating the bomb, for example, or Desmond’s flashes when he remembers his life with Penny. Those felt more like memories of a prior existence than peeks into an alternate reality that doesn’t exist yet.

So here’s a big question: What is Widmore up to with this electromagnetic stuff, and Desmond at the heart of it? The only clue we got to this was when Widmore said he needed to know if Desmond could survive a second exposure to a powerful electromagnetic anomaly. This is a reference to the implosion of the Swan hatch at the end of Season 2, which Desmond also miraculously survived. It left me wondering what all this electromagnetism has to do with Widmore’s war against the Man in Black. And here’s what I came up with.

We know that the smoke monster/MiB can be effected by energy and technology. Traditional weapons like bullets or bombs have no effect on him, but modern tech like sonic fences can keep MiB at bay. Do the electromagnetic energy pockets also have an effect on MiB? I’m willing to bet that these electromagnetic pockets beneath the island are what make it a prison for MiB, holding him there and preventing his escape. The pockets are what give the island its unique properties — and what attracted people like the Dharma Initiative there to run experiments — but they are not a randomly occurring phenomenon. They are the key to what makes the island a “cork,” holding back the evil that is the smoke monster.

How Widmore intends to use this to his advantage, I have no idea, but clearly it involves placing Desmond right smack in the middle of another gigantic electromagnetic pulse. Is Widmore going to set off a bomb, destroying another pocket like the one that was beneath the Swan station? Does he intend to destroy all of the energy pockets beneath the island? Does he think this will harm or kill MiB?

Whatever he’s up to, he’s planning to use Desmond to do it, because there’s no one else in the world who can. And despite Desmond jumping sides over to MiB’s camp, thanks to Sayid’s handy-dandy rescue, I imagine in the end we’ll get to find out just what happens when Widmore’s plan is executed.

Will Desmond survive this electromagnetic attack on MiB? Or is giving his life the “sacrifice” Widmore said he would have to ask of him?

It wouldn’t surprise me. And maybe this is why Desmond is so willing to help him. He knows that if he dies here, on the island, he’ll still live in the Sideways world, and he’ll get to experience the joy of wooing and winning Penny’s heart all over again. (He’ll even get to do it right this time, instead of foolishly pushing her away and then winding up on the island alone for three years.)

Side note: Widmore’s plan to attack MiB with electromagnetism, on a level such as the catastrophic event when the Swan Hatch imploded, makes me wonder if that implosion at the end of Season 2 had some kind of effect on MiB. Was he harmed or changed by that EMP flash? And wasn’t it not very long after that event that Locke had his first run-in with the Man in Black, who appeared to be confined to the Cabin thanks to a circle of ash? (He asked Locke to “help me,” as I recall.) Could he have been suffering the after-effects of the EMP blast?

I think the most telling moment from the entire episode was when Sideways Eloise told Desmond that he finally had what he’d always wanted in the form of Widmore’s approval.

Aside from revealing that Eloise knows exactly what’s up with the Sideways reality — which isn’t all that surprising, since she always seems to know pretty much everything (and I’m dying to know why that is) — this tells us that everyone having what they’d always wanted seems to be the lynchpin of this reality’s existence.

Did (or will) someone or something create the Sideways reality as a means of pacifying everyone who’s ever been to the island? Does it exist to placate all of them, to make them feel so fulfilled that they’d never want to try and undo the changes that have been made to reality? This is where my mind went. MiB somehow used the powers of the island to reset time, and give everybody what they wanted — but probably did it for selfish reasons, i.e., his desire to get off the island. The island’s sinking to the bottom of the ocean would certainly accomplish that. So what if he makes a deal with Desmond or some of the survivors that results in the changes to history that lead to the creation of the Sideways reality?

Everybody got something they’d always wanted. Jack got to overcome his daddy issues by being a better father than his own dad ever was. Sayid got to be completely selfless, giving Nadia the happiness she could never hold onto before. Ben got to finally be “the good guy” by doing the right thing by Alex.

And yet… There’s a flaw in this logic. Did everyone really get what they wanted most? Desmond’s greatest wish couldn’t possibly be for Widmore’s approval. Desmond has always lived and breathed solely for Penny (and lately, little Charlie, too).

So either everyone got what some external power merely thought they wanted… or… they got the one thing they’d always desired that they never could attain before. Desmond’s greatest wish was to be with Penny, but he got that. He found her, married her, and started a family with her. Yet he never did gain her father’s approval. The Sideways reality has given him that.

Some of the others could be explained in this same way. Locke thought he found his purpose on the island, but he never truly found happiness. But with Helen at his side, Sideways Locke has found that happiness is more important than having some grand destiny.

Is someone pulling the strings in all this, and is Eloise’s desperate desire to keep Desmond from figuring it all out a clue as to why?

It all points back to the dual nature of reality. All the evidence we have so far indicates that the hydrogen bomb’s detonation really did both work… and not work. What if the bomb fractured reality into two parallel versions?

Eloise has always served Jacob and the island, so… Could it be that Jacob himself is responsible for the two realities? And if so, what possible, all-important reason to the island could there be for him to split reality in two?