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I am currently re-watching Lost, and just finished watching the season three finale Beyond The Looking Glass, at the end of which

Charlie drowns in the Looking Glass station.

But I am confused as to why. It seems to me that he could have simply left the door open and escaped with Desmond. Why did he shut the door and let himself drown?

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By this point, Charlie was fated to die. Throughout Season 3, Desmond had seen that Charlie was going to die and prevented a number of these deaths, including:

In Flashes Before Your Eyes, Hurley and Charlie get Desmond drunk and he reveals Charlie's fate and states that he "can't save Charlie forever."

DESMOND: When I saw the lightning hit the roof you were electrocuted. And when you heard Claire was in the water you -- you drowned trying to save her. I dove in myself so you never went in. I've tried, brother. I've tried twice to save you, but the universe has a way of course correcting and -- and I can't stop it forever. I'm sorry. I'm sorry because no matter what I try to do you're going to die, Charlie.

(This leads to Charlie becoming somewhat depressed, until the incident with the camper van in Tricia Tanaka Is Dead. (Season 3, Episode 10) )

Desmond saves Charlie again in Catch-22 (Season 3, Episode 17). Charlie is constantly living with the prospect of immediate death, even more so that the rest of the group.

In Greatest Hits(Season 3, Episode 21), Desmond tells Charlie that if he drowns on the Looking Glass station, then Claire and Aaron will get to leave the island in the helicopter.1

DESMOND: What are you writing?

CHARLIE: [Pauses] Nothing. All right, tell me.

DESMOND: You sure you wanna know? I mean it might be easier if you jus—

CHARLIE: Yeah. I want to know.

DESMOND: You're inside a hatch. It's, er... a room full of equipment. There's a blinking yellow light above a switch. You flick the switch... light goes off... and then you drown.

CHARLIE: [Nods, then pauses] When?

DESMOND: I don't know.

CHARLIE: You sure you saw Claire and Aaron get on that helicopter?

DESMOND: Aye.

CHARLIE: So, before I drown, I just have to flip a switch.

DESMOND: That's right.

CHARLIE: Where is it, then?

Charlie finishes recording his Greatest Hits and makes peace with his friends and dives down.

It is clear that by the time of Through the Looking Glass (Season 3, Episode 22), Charlie has made peace with the world and is ready to die, if the circumstance is right. He believes that if he makes the sacrifice when he pushes that button Claire and Aaron, the people he cares most about, will get to leave the island.

Whilst saving Desmond was a consideration, his main motivation was making Desmond's flash come to pass.

1 It's unclear if Desmond lied about this point or not.

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He was protecting Desmond.

Admittedly, the timing does seem to grant them some wiggle room. The station is large enough (at least on TV, I haven't seen many live undersea rigs but I would imagine they're smaller) that it wouldn't all flood right away, and while the water pressure would be great, presumably it wouldn't be enough to sweep them away from diving out and up.

That said, Charlie had maybe a second to react. I don't remember the show entirely clearly, but it seemed like only the window blew in when the grenade went off. He probably thought it was going to be much greater explosion, and might have expected to die right away rather than drowning. He definitely thought he was protecting Desmond; if he thought they both could get away, he wouldn't have closed the door.

Maybe they could have. Done was done though.

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