In the LOST season finale, a drunk Kelvin confides in Desmond:
DESMOND: What is this?
INMAN: This is the only other way out, partner.
DESMOND: What are you talking about?
INMAN: Failsafe. Turn this key and this all goes away.
DESMOND: What’s behind that wall, Kelvin? Huh? What was the incident?
INMAN: Electromagnetism, geologically unique. The incident — there was a leak. So now the charge builds up and every time we push the button it discharges it before it gets too big.
DESMOND: Why make us do it — push the button? If we, if we can just…
INMAN [laughing and closing the lid]: Here’s the real question, Desmundo — do you have the courage to take your finger out of the dam and blow the whole thing up, instead?
Later on, when everything is going to hell in the hatch and SYSTEM FAILURE shows up on the screen, Desmond grabs the “failsafe key” and tells Locke:
DESMOND: I’ve got to go. And you’ve got to get as far away from here as possible.
LOCKE: Go where? Stop!
DESMOND: I’m going to blow the dam, John. [the timer starts flipping to the hieroglyphs] I’m sorry for whatever happened that made you stop believing. But it’s all real. Now I’ve got to go and make it all go away.
The vagueness of these statements is confusing to me. What do they mean “make it all go away”? The way Kelvin and Desmond talk about the key, they make it sound like something that is a suicide mission–risking their lives to save a project, or sacrificing themselves to save others. The wikipedia has two definitions of “fail-safe”:
A device which, if (or when) it fails, fails in a way that will cause no harm or at least a minimum of harm to other devices or danger to personnel.
An operation which ensures that a failure of equipment, process, or system does not propagate beyond the immediate environs of the failing entity.
What do you think the fail-safe key does? Does it reverse the polarity of the giant magnet? Does it do the same thing as the button (releasing built up electromagnetic charge–in which case, why didn’t Desmond use the key the first time in “Orientation”–when the computer was shot)? Is it a self-destruct sequence, to protect the secrets of DHARMA? Do you think Desmond survived?