Desmond's flashback was not a dream

Lost Desmond Flashback

In the latest official Lost podcast, Lost executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse discussed last week’s mysterious episode “Flashes Before Your Eyes“.

This is a rough transcript of what they had to say about Desmond’s strange flashback where he appeared to re-live his past:

Carlton: I suppose people would wanna know… what does this mean?
Damon: Did it really happen?
Carlton: Yeah, did it really happen?
Damon: Yeah, I think it really happened.
Carlton: I think it did too.
Damon: One of the things we try very rarely on the show is to play something as having been imagined or dreamed. You know I would say in the global sense of things, Desmond back in 1996 actually had that experience. i would venture to guess that in future flashbacks of Desmond’s they would be treated as traditional flashbacks where he doesnt really have any awareness of his destiny but in this particular instance we went outside the box a little.

Carlton: Right, I mean it’s entirely possible that he can have a traditional flashback as well.
Damon: Absolutely, what’s interesting is that there are certain things that happened the way they used to happen that he changed as a result of being in the past, that might sort of resonate over time, like getting hit in the face instead of the bartender, or the fact that the photograph of he and penny got taken the day they broke up. Maybe in another incarnation there were two photographs, that would explain how she got one.

When I saw the episode I felt it was pretty clear that Desmond was in some way re-living his past, but I know quite a few of you have been of the opinion that the flashback was a dream or a hallucination created by the smoke monster. Hopefully this should clear things up a bit!

A few other things in the episode are also cleared up in the podcast, so if you haven’t listened already, I would recommend doing so!

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25 Responses to Desmond's flashback was not a dream

  1. AnotherOther says:

    Hmmmm…. interesting. So, time travel. Okay.

  2. JeffM says:

    Can you imagine how horrible it would be? I mean it sounds interesting and all but to go back through all those events thinking (I believe incorrectly at this point) that you can’t change anything.

    I still think the others are from the future (relative to the losties) and are manipulating Desmond into keeping their future as intact as possible. Their future is already damaged by something – and perhaps there are two groups at war with each other — one that thinks intereference is wrong and one that wants to meddle. Time will tell! Hope Charlie makes it!

  3. JoaoMealha says:

    Hello there!Can anyone please tell me how can I possibly send a question to Calton Cuse and Damon Lindelof?In the podcasts they usually mention posts and users.Are they refering to a forum?If so what forum?
    My thank you in advance to anyone who would have the kindness to elucidate me;)

  4. Mark says:

    Wow… I was on the vision/dream/illusion bandwagon.

    I’m a bit stumped, though. In the podcast, they say Desmond was given the chance to change his past decisions, and didn’t. Then they go on to say that the future may be changed because of the things he changed in the past (warning the bartender and getting hit by the cricket bat himself.)

    No doubt it will still be an interesting storyline, but it leaves too many plot-holes for my liking… the most critical being that I can’t suspend disbelief that when Charlie crashed on this island, saw the hatch and the computer he was told about, and the same guy manning that hatch, that his memory wouldn’t be jogged in the least (no matter HOW much heroin the boy did!) And you’ve got all the other oddities… did DHARMA really use Des’s microwave for the alarm sound in the hatch? The painting that Claire’s boyfriend Tom was working on in 2004 is in Widmore’s office in 1996?!

    As per usual, D&C were still rather ambiguous–time travel is implied, but at the same time, they say the event was a flashback, and that was Desmond’s experience as it happened in 1996. I sense they were describing something more along the lines of the Dr Manhattan idea, where Desmond may have stood apart from time, and in the instance of the failsafe activation had a limited opportunity to affect events.

    I hope it is the case, that it was isolated. Past time travel could easily destroy the integrity of the show, IMO. There is now something in place that the writers can use to explain any event or plot-hole that arises, and that worries me some.

  5. joe says:

    ok, here’s my theory..

    during desmond’s jump in time, he blabs every detail about the island to his physicist friend..

    i think somehow penny talks to this friend, trying to find des – he tells her his crazy story about the island and turning the key. then penny discovers some verification of the island’s existence by making a connection between dharma and widmore. she then sets on her quest to search for, locate, and wait for the magnetic anamoly to occur..

    it could be so awesome.. think back to desmond’s flashback in the moments before he turned the key – not knowing that penelope has actually been waiting years for that moment to arrive – he thinks it means they will never see each other again, she thinks it will be the event to unite them.

    as for the jewelry shop woman… uh, i got nothin on that. i think we don’t have enough information to draw any real conclusions about her yet.

  6. Martijn says:

    @ joe:

    Good theory. I like the idea of penny and those russian (or wherever they come from) dudes are waiting for the key to be turned.

    That would also explain the 2 russians saying: “we’ve missed it again?”, which would refer to a previous attemt to locate the island.

  7. Jamie says:

    A quick thought and then a theory…

    If, as D&C say in the podcast, Desmond actually experienced those events in 1996, where did the original memories of the things he changed (the barman getting hit, etc.) come from? Isn’t this a paradox?

    Also, regarding the Ring Lady’s comments about everyone dying if Desmond doesn’t go to the island and push the button. She clearly has a different kind of future knowledge to Desmond. In fact, she behaves as a classic time traveller (I’m thinking Marty McFly here), visiting 1996 from the future and being fully aware that she is out of time. Desmond, by contrast, is someone actually living out his life, in his own time, and only having vague deja vus and glimpsed memories of the future (a less linear, more messy form of time awareness).

    It’s clear that RL is actively and deliberately manipulating events from a future perspective. She is there to make sure things happen the way they are meant to (she says as much). Those events, in this particular case of manipulation, being Desmond breaking up with Pen, his subsequent military service, disgrace, going to the island, etc. Or what? Or we will all die.

    The “we all die” comment immediately made me think of the DHARMA Initiative and their effort to avert human extinction. The extinction event may not be the obvious one of the failsafe not being activated and something REALLY BAD happening as a result. It may be the more mundane one predicted by the Valenzeti equation.

    So what if the RL is an agent sent from a future where DHARMA succeeded and the human race did not become extinct.

    But a necessary event on the timeline that lead to success was the Failsafe Event, which caused Desmond to become unstuck in time (to pinch Vonnegut’s phrase), weakening the timeline’s integrity, but not destroying it completely. Thus the manipulation (of Desmond, primarily, but there may be other instances) from the future is necessary to ensure the timeline makes it through this muddy patch and doesn’t allow the violation of causality to destroy it completely.

    It isn’t the Universe doing the course-correcting, it is us (well, the DHARMA Initiative) from the future. I think the “Universe” comment was the RL trying to make Desmond feel he really didn’t have a choice. No point in trying to go against the wishes of the Universe, after all.

    Kind of begs the question, if the RL is from the future, who else is?

    Just had a thought. When the Failsafe Event happened and everyone had their hands over their ears, writhing in agony, Ben was looking uncomfortable, but not really surprised…

  8. Toeknee says:

    I have many of the same thoughts as Mark. I had thought the flashback was a dream, not time travel, but like Mark said there are too many plot-holes associated with the time travel scenario. To me, the biggest one is, what happens after Desmond is hit on the head? It seemed to be a pretty hard hit – he probably would have been rushed to the hospital, and may have suffered some permanent brain damage (maybe that’s related to his precognitive abilities?). But beyond that, are we to assume that all those other subsequent events in his life that we learned about in the Season 2 finale still occurred? He still joins the army, still does something to get kicked out of the army, gets warned by Penny’s father to stay away from her, decides to enter the boat race, etc etc etc? I understand about fate and this concept of course-correcting, but it seems like there would be many instances of him going through his life and making different decisions than he did the first time, and doing that would quite possibly alter his future.

    I like joe’s theory about the physicist possibly playing a role in Penny’s efforts to track down Desmond, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that happen.

  9. Tina says:


    Awesome! I think you’re really on to something here. I can’t kick the idea though of a nonlinear time table here. If RL is from the future (and maybe some other folks) perhaps the reason they are sent “back” is because something in the “past” universe/time is slowly deconstructing the “future” universe/time. That something may be inevitable human extinction, climate change, or Desmond’s decision to marry Penny. I’m not certain, but I think that all of these events are occuring simultaneously which would explain why Desmond could interact in his flashback the way he does.

    I also think you’re dead on with Ben-most definitely future guy of some kind.

  10. Jamie says:

    [quote comment=”40753″]I understand about fate and this concept of course-correcting, but it seems like there would be many instances of him going through his life and making different decisions than he did the first time, and doing that would quite possibly alter his future.[/quote]

    I think this is harder to do than we like to think.

    The whole notion of making alternative decisions in life feeds into the theme of people changing their nature, becoming a new person through a conscious choice. Jack optimistically offers this to Kate way back at the beginning, with the chance to begin again on the island.

    However, if someone’s nature dictates the choices they make to the degree the story up until this point seems to suggest (people have tended to “revert to type” after seemingly changing (e.g. Charlie, Sawyer, Sayid)), the only thing that would change Desmond’s path would be something really extreme, like gaining knowledge of future events.

    Thus when he does get this knowledge there is the need to actively correct his course, which the Ring Lady does by telling him it is pointless to resist and appealing to his cowardice (Desmond clearly has an issue with being labelled a coward so there is probably some truth to it).

    There is still the question of how long this period of future awareness lasted. I’m guessing the thumps on the head from ladder-fall and cricket bat were the start and stop of it.

  11. Toeknee says:

    Jaime – I think I understand what you’re saying about not easily being able to change one’s path. And I also agree with your earlier comment (#7) about the Ring Lady being sent from the future to manipulate Desmond to ensure he gets onto the island. But I still have trouble understanding the rules/logistics of time travel, or at least the show’s creators’ rules of time travel, and how the events from 1996 that we saw in this episode relate to what happens subsequently to Desmond. Was he only on his “trip” for the time between the two events you listed – the ladder fall and the cricket bat? Sort of like the Ghost of Christmas Past in “A Christmas Carol” – you go back for a set period of time (although Desmond was a participant, not just an observer) and then somehow pop back to the present? I suppose that is a possbility.

    But I was interpreting the idea of time travel as Desmond going back to 1996, and then having to relive ALL of the next 8 years over, yet still somehow end up on the island. I think what you’re saying is that once he’s hit by the cricket bat, he no longer has premonitions, correct? But after he turned the key, he has been having premonitions. So because of that, I was assuming he had that ability all along, for the full 8 years that he was reliving (Des himself told Charlie that his life flashed before his eyes, and the flashes didn’t stop). And if that were the case, I think that at certain key points in his life, knowing what the outcome were the first time through, he might do something differently. For example, we don’t know what he did to get kicked out of the army, but knowing that was the result of his original action, he might act differently at the appropriate time to avoid that punishment/humiliation/etc. Then once on the island, some or all of the following may have happened: Des wouldn’t be so naïve to believe Kelvin when he told Des he could get sick if he’s exposed to the island’s atmosphere, he would have known of Kelvin’s efforts to repair his boat, he wouldn’t have killed Kelvin (although with the universe course-correcting issue, Kelvin may have died somehow anyways), he may have made sure that he didn’t let the button go unpushed on that fateful day that Oceanic 815 crashed, he would have had a better argument as to why Locke had to keep pushing the button, etc.

    Maybe that scenario is not what the creators are thinking, and maybe it is as I stated in the previous paragraph, that Des time-traveled for a brief period of time then jumped 8 years back to the present. I can’t fully comprehend that scenario, but if that is what the creators say happened, I’ll go along with it.

  12. Jamie says:


    Yeah, time travel isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to think about sensibly!

    But, the more I think about it, the more I’m going off the idea of any “travel” having actually happened.

    The problem is that Desmond physically travelling back and reliving the 8 years from 1996 to 2004 creates a loop that he shouldn’t be able to escape from.

    Desmond travels back to 1996, then moves forward normally till he turns the key, at which point he travels back to 1996 and repeat ad infinitum…

    If there was actual, physical travel involved he should have popped out of existence when the hatch imploded, never to be seen again (except in the past).

    And that’s not even considering where the pre-1996 Desmond went when he was replaced by 2004-Desmond.

    What I think is more likely (and less head-throbbing) is that Desmond’s normally linear existence (moving from past to future) was buckled or kinked in some way by the Failsafe Event and two periods in his life overlapped for a short amount of time. He didn’t travel anywhere (except out of the hatch, somehow), it’s just that his thoughts/memories/minds/awareness overlapped, but only for that short period of time. Afterwards (after the cricket bat incident, if that’s the point where it ended) Time reasserted itself and didn’t allow any more intrusion into his head from the future. He forgot about it, basically. Hence the Ring Lady only had to provide guidance for the one major decision within that window of overlap (will he pop the question?) and wasn’t holding his hand for the next 8 years.

    And his premonitions?

    Think of it like an Earthquake. The main quake being the 1996-2004 overlap and the premonitions being aftershocks as time fixes itself.

  13. Jamie says:

    An extra thought to attach to my last comment…

    The moment of overlap between 1996 and 2004 may not have been the length of the flashback in the episode (and it was an actual flashback, just a lot more connected to the present than the rest have been). It could have just been a split second, with 1996-Desmond and 2004-Desmond both having the same “aftershock” premonitions (the 1996 Desmond obviously being a bit more confused than the 2004 Desmond because all he was doing was painting his flat when it happened). From our 2004, viewer’s perspective it looks like time travel into the past but it is actually just the same effect happening to both Desmonds.

    If this is correct, will there be any RL-type intervention for 2004-Desmond. He’s obviously changing things, but maybe these are things he is meant to change and he is merely lacking perspective when he says that Charlie is inevitably going to die.

  14. Hammer says:

    Hey…the must have read my comment about the photos!!! haha

  15. Hammer says:


    I don’t think he’s lacking perspective…the old woman told him via the guy in the red shoes that Charlie or anyone else can only be saved for the moment. Whether she lied is different question…

  16. Jamie says:


    Yep, very true. The red shoe reference had slipped my mind.

    I was thinking of a reason why whoever the Ring Lady represents intervened in 1996 and not in 2004. It could be that Charlie just doesn’t figure on the agenda they are working to. Lots of lives and deaths are inconsequential as far as They are concerned and the Ring Lady was effectively saying “Don’t waste your time, it won’t be your fault when it happens”. Desmond, however, isn’t as going to accept that as a solution, but either way it doesn’t matter to RL.

  17. Hammer says:

    I am guessing that she is doing it 1996 because that is when Dez is supposed to let Pen go…that is when he was attempting to get a ring and marry her. Which changes the “future”. I believe that is the key to the whole episode. If he marries her, he doesn’t do the contest, etc…

  18. theOtherdave says:

    I LOVE all of these theories; Mark’s, joe’s, Jamie’s and Toeknee’s have great ones.
    But I am still confused and a little unsure of ‘time travel’. I was one of many who believed he experienced his past as a dream. Do I really think Lost has become this complex? I am overwhelmed by the theories here. Could Desmond’s episode really offer that much complexity of cause for all that is happening (not just to Desmond but to the Losties too)? If it did and many people here think so, then applause to the writers for this. Because if any of these theories are on the right track then the show REALLY is better than great.
    My gut tells there is something a little off though-something doesn’t seem right- something simpler, maybe(?).
    I wished I could offer a good theory myself but just don’t have the brain power to do so. Wait…what if Desmond can see both forward and backward, but backward is experienced and not just ‘seen’. What if his mind only makes up images (Ring Lady) and Ring Lady explainations to counter the incomprehensible. But when he sees the future they are just images. Like the difference between still photos and video?
    Ok I got 2 brain cells to work for that theory.
    Man I can’t wait till tonight!

  19. desmondo says:

    I think it’s all bullshit and none of it has any rational explanation. The whole plot is created to keep the viewers guessing and more importantly keep the viewers watching. The creators have already move past this series and are simply keeping it afloat for as long as the contract dictates. The show is completely meaningless and ambiguous and is one big marketing experiment to see how to most efficiently keep people watching the tube.

  20. kyle says:

    joe stole my theory!

  21. marco says:

    i think that the whole flashback in this episode wasnt a dream and that it actually happened, but i think as the jeweler said desmond is supposed to end up on the island, so no matter what he did like trying to save the man in the red shoes; or saving the bar tender guy, he would end up in the same position as he was! so instead of playing back all of what we already know like the fact that he met libby, crashed on the island, the whole suit malarky and eventually turning the fail safe key, they just jumped to where desmonds story began in season 3, with him in the jungle.

    again i thought a brilliant way to show the relevance and the importance of fate in this series!!!

    brilliant episode though!

  22. Bruce says:

    Was Desmond a Coward for turning the key?

  23. patience says:

    I completely disagree with you, desmondo. You dont know what your talking about. By the way, the contract is up by the end of season 3 but they have plans for at least 100 episodes. I know there is business in television, but don’t pretend like you know what your talking about. The premise of the show is a mystery and It does have an explanation, whether it is rational or not, I dont know. The creators haven’t moved past the show, maybe JJ Abrams has but he was never a big part of the show anyway. I will tell you how to effectively keep people watching television: Give them a bunch of crappy pop singers and tell them their votes will deceide who the next American Idol is. Lost wasn’t created as a way to experiment on television viewers, you have to much Dharma on the brain.

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