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Live Together, Die Alone and Its Impact on Lost

The failsafe from the Swan Hatch in Lost

I’ve said for years that Season 2 of Lost was the show at its finest. That’s in no way a knock on what came before or what would come after but Season 2 set the standard. Every season of Lost felt like a book in a series, each with its own stories and ways of moving the overall story forward. Season 2 told the story of The Hatch but perhaps most importantly, took the world that was established in the first season and made it a lot bigger. Never was that more evident than in the Season 2 finale, “Live Together, Die Alone”.

A Brave Choice

By this point in the series, viewers were familiar with Lost’s system of each episode having a “centric character”, who would be featured in the flashbacks and also would be the most heavily spotlighted character in the real time story on the Island. The choice to bring back Desmond, who had only appeared in the first three episodes of Season 2 as the centric character for “Live Together, Die Alone” and have a considerable amount of an important season finale revolve around him, was a big gamble. Hindsight shows that the gamble pays off as Desmond would become one of the most beloved characters on the show but there was no way of knowing that at the time. The audience could have not responded to a relative newcomer taking lead and the show could’ve been in a difficult position heading into the third season. It’s brave storytelling and a belief in your writing to proceed with a decision like this.

“Live Together, Die Alone” would not only elevate Desmond to main character status, it would also introduce both Penny and Charles Widmore to the Lost universe. While Widmore’s scene didn’t necessarily foreshadow his significant importance to Lost, Penny’s importance was immediately known. Her scene at the track with Desmond, her letter to him and of course, the game changing final scene were all show stealers in their own right, enabling us as an audience to fall in love with Penny and for the love story between Desmond and Penny to in many ways, become the heart of the show moving forward.

A Glimpse Into The Past

Desmond’s flashback gave us a lot. Between that heartbreaking scene with the recently departed Libby, introducing us to the love story that would capture hearts and minds with Penny and a history lesson on the Island, it was a significant download of information and groundwork being laid. Before I get too deep into the on Island part of the flashback, I do want to draw attention to something I found significant. Libby gave Desmond her boat which was named after her so he could regain his honor after being in prison. Then while at her funeral, Desmond was returned to his imprisonment on the Island in that same boat named after her. Is there a larger meaning at play here or is it interesting coincidence? Libby herself was locked up in an institution before the Island and then after being murdered by Michael, doomed to an eternal imprisonment on the Island. Read into this how you would like but it’s an observation at the least worth noting.

As the story in Lost grew and the seeds of mythology began to be planted, fans of the show wanted background. We wanted to know the Island’s history and more about “The Others”, the Dharma Initiative and much more. Desmond’s flashback in “Live Together, Die Alone” would give us our first real look into a time on the Island before our castaways arrived and in trademark Lost fashion, leave us with more questions than answers.

“Live Together, Die Alone” would give us our first mentions of Radzinsky, who would play a pivotal role in Season 5. Radzinsky was last seen in 1977 in Season 5, unsuccessful in stopping Jack and friends from detonating a hydrogen bomb, which would become the infamous incident referenced in Dharma orientation videos. Season 5 showed us Radzinsky’s obsession with the Swan Hatch and “Live Together, Die Alone” concludes that story. Knowing that Radzinsky would end his life in the Hatch, after spending years pressing the button every 108 minutes is tragic, even if the character was extremely unlikable.

Faith Lost

It has long been said that the Swan Hatch brought out the worst in people. Sawyer returned to his conman ways in “The Long Con”. Michael shot and killed Ana Lucia and Libby in “Two for the Road”. John Locke lost his faith. Desmond’s spirit was broken. Radzinsky before them went mad and eventually took his life. Are these examples of coincidence or is there more to that?

The Swan Hatch forced those who entered to question their faith and their beliefs, just by the very nature of having a button you had to press every 108 minutes to save the world. Nobody was given any proof of whether this was real or not. You were expected to take a leap of faith into pressing this button. Did you want to be the one to risk not pushing it? Locke was a believer in the Island and its power by the time he entered the Hatch. He had no problem accepting this role as part of his destiny. But by sitting alone, faced with this doomsday scenario, he began to question his faith. He began to revert back to a place of victimhood, which was something he was arguably starting to recover from. Locke went from one extreme, pushing the button at all costs all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum and believing that it was something he had been conned into doing. As a result of this, he was willing to risk the lives of everyone on the Island and potentially everywhere else and let the countdown get to zero.

The infamous numbers from Lost

This does make Locke different than those who came before him. Radzinsky wanted out but waited until he had Kelvin. Kelvin waited until he had Desmond. Desmond waited for our castaways. Nobody, besides Locke, shifted so far that they were willing to let the button go unpushed. This crisis of faith would cement Locke’s unwavering support and belief in the Island moving forward.

So much of Lost is about questioning whether things happened for a reason or if they were coincidence. Desmond’s flashback showed that he was ready to end his life but Locke beating on the Hatch door in Season 1’s “Deus Ex Machina” gave him hope that perhaps he could leave his confinement—that help was indeed on the way. Desmond would return this favor to Locke by preventing him from letting the Hatch fully malfunction. Desmond turned the failsafe, which imploded the Hatch and changed the course of the show forever, but also brought John Locke back to a place of faith. He was reminded of the Island’s power and that this place was indeed, special. Was it merely coincidence that Desmond and Locke were there for each other in their respective moments of weakness? Just like in real life, that’s up to us to define. Questions of destiny and free will always will be subject to interpretation and it’s no different here.

Narratively speaking, the Swan Hatch had to be destroyed in one manner or another. Our characters couldn’t permanently be confined to that space and that doomsday clock. The question does remain though of what exactly would have happened had Desmond not turned the failsafe key. Let’s try to piece together some narrative evidence to reach a conclusion.

In Season 5, when we saw the construction of the Swan Hatch occurring, it was stated that the electromagnetic activity under the Swan was 30,000 times greater than the electromagnetic activity underneath The Orchid. Underneath The Orchid of course was the wheel that required turning to move the Island. Given this, it doesn’t seem far fetched to think that the Swan Hatch was built on top of the “heart of the Island”, featured in the series finale or at least in the vicinity of it. Let’s also consider this quote from Damon Lindelof on the Season 2 boxset special feature, “Secrets From the Hatch”:

The function of the Hatch, what it is built for, is because there was this accident here. Basically, if you were to perceive the fact that the Hatch is a structure that is essentially a big thumb, and that thumb is sticking in a dyke. And that dyke is holding back this massive electromagnetic anomaly that is just sort of illustrated on the other side of this wall that makes Jack’s key rise. That’s what the design is.

Given all of this and what we saw onscreen and if we are to assume that the Swan was near the heart of the Island, Desmond turning the fail safe key very well may have prevented the entire Island from collapsing and sinking to the bottom of the ocean, which is something we would see fully realized in the “flash sideways” and beginning to materialize in the series finale. Thinking in these terms really raises the stakes when we revisit Locke blocking Mr. Eko and Charlie from entering the computer room of The Swan. Had Locke been successful and Desmond not turned the failsafe key, could the Smoke Monster have escaped the Island had it been destroyed? Jacob, in Season 6’s Richard Alpert centric episode, ” Ab Aeterno”, explained to Richard that the Island was a cork, keeping what we call the Smoke Monster contained. Given this analogy and explanation, it seems highly plausible that Desmond prevented “The Man in Black” from leaving, much like Jack did in “The End”.

It’s also worth noting that Damon’s explanation quoted above as to what the Swan Hatch’s true purpose was is remarkably similar to Jacob’s cork analogy with the Monster. Critics of Lost like to claim that the show lost its way or went considerably off track in the final two seasons. Nothing could be further from the truth. The show was always about the Island and what made it significant, what made it powerful and how that setting impacted the people on it. The electromagnetic power under the Swan Hatch that had to be dealt with in “Live Together, Die Alone” was a precursor for a similar issue to be dealt with in the series finale. Season 2 of Lost and its finale in particular, set the table perfectly for what was to come.


In a lot of ways, “Live Together, Die Alone”, told us what we were getting into with the rest of the series. Michael and Walt left the Island, foreshadowing the real world becoming a setting in our real time story. The Others took off their costumes and showed their true selves. Penny’s quest to find Desmond was revealed and her father’s desire for Desmond to never leave the Island had its seeds planted. And of course, the relevance of the power below the Island, as well as the cork analogy that would later be used by Jacob when describing the Man in Black on the Island certainly matches up with the quote from Damon on the Swan’s function, as noted above.

“Live Together, Die Alone” asks us questions of faith and what we would do in the most difficult of situations. Would we double down when danger is approaching like Locke or make a sacrifice for the greater good like Desmond? Would our beliefs have us running towards the danger like Eko or would we find a way to help when things looked dire like Charlie? Lost as a series is many things but perhaps most importantly, it’s a study of people and our relationships, beliefs and motivations. “Live Together, Die Alone” had that on full display.

Season 2 of Lost changed the Island drama that Season 1 gave us forever. It took the show inside for starters and began asking us the questions that would ultimately be at the core of the show. “Live Together, Die Alone” was a brilliant final chapter to one of television’s greatest seasons that left us with many more questions than answers.

Written by Andrew Grevas

Andrew is the Founder / Editor in Chief of 25YL. He’s engaged with 2 sons, a staunch defender of the series finales for both Lost & The Sopranos and watched Twin Peaks at the age of 5 during its original run, which explains a lot about his personality.

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