From "Greatest Hits," season three:
Charlie: "Why does everything have to be such a secret? How about some openness for a change?"
From "White Rabbit," season one:
Charlie: "I woke up and she — I don't swim... I don't swim."
From "Greatest Hits," season three:
Charlie: "I'll do it. Swim down, turn off that bloody switch, swim back up. Piece of cake."
Jack: "Charlie, you don't even know what we're talking about."
Charlie: "I was junior swim champion in Northern England; I can hold my breath for four minutes — I know exactly what you're talking about, Jack."
The swim champion who can't swim. Of course Charlie may have said he didn't swim because he was strung out, but somehow, given how things have worked so far, that seems unlikely. In fact, if Charlie couldn't swim, perhaps that's why Des saved Charlie from going into the water after Claire in "Flashes Before Your Eyes." There is a secret we're being shown, but not told.
So let's put this question a little more firmly this time: When Des saved Charlie, how much of the past and present, as well as the future, are changed? And do the Lostaways even realize things have changed?
Add to this subtle twist the one image that will burn on from "Greatest Hits" — Alex tearing apart a white rabbit and receiving the gun from Ben with blood-drenched hands — and this somewhat quiet, internal episode shows even more of the overall narrative. Even the rabbits seemed to have taken on a different aspect. No longer the fluffy bunnies of Steinbeck and Benny Potter, they're now food. And with that image, "White Rabbit" is also in its way torn apart; on the seventh day, Jack was trying to find out if he "had what it takes" to be a leader. By the ninety-second day, we have our answer.
This was another episode that is making some clear literary allusions through the drama, rather than Sawyer or Ben's island libraries. Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass is the literary specter hanging around this episode, but will be more clearly developed in the finale of the same name. It will have to do with assumptions being turned inside-out, which we already have a glimpse of with Charlie being able to swim and the white rabbits literally being turned inside out. So check your assumptions at the door next week, and remember those two elements from "Greatest Hits."
The foremost allusion here is Lord of the Rings, with the only island hobbit playing the role of Frodo. In Charlie's flashback, Liam pulls a Bilbo and offers the DS ring to his baby brother, because the ring needed to stay in the family. The ring functions as a kind of talisman for Charlie, being passed down for generations from grandpa Dexter Stratton. Liam was sure he'd come to no good by the time he was thirty, and Charlie would end up with the wife and child; therefore Charlie was the one who should have the ring. In Lost's mirror-twinning fashion, we know Liam was exactly wrong; it was Charlie who washed out, and Liam who pulled it together to achieve middle class standards. But Charlie has already gone through a few looking glasses, and on the island becomes the adoptive father of Aaron. For once we see some positive male parenting, with Charlie doting on Aaron, and in a flashback, Charlie's father devotedly helping his boy learn to swim. Charlie does his fatherly bit by passing on the DS ring to his own son, leaving it in Aaron's crib before he sets out to accomplish his mission.
Charlie's Mordor lies full fathom five, more or less. Like the younger Baggins, Charlie takes the courageous step to face his fate. He understands the only chance for rescue is if he fulfills one of Des's flashes, which won't end well. Charlie for once bears this responsibility with a heavy earnestness and quiet strength gained through struggle — with his addiction, with some of the other survivors, with Ethan, and then with his seemingly determined destiny. Charlie is now the moth; like Locke says in the episode of the same name, butterflies get all the attention, but the moths are the faster, stronger, more impressive beings. Who are the butterflies and who are the moths of the island?
Playing Sam to his Frodo, Hurley is reticent to let his friend perform the dive unaided. This recalls two scenes from Tolkien's books: In The Fellowship of the Ring Frodo secretly floats off in a boat to take on the mission alone, and Sam dives into a lake after him. At the end of Return of the King, Frodo leaves Sam to go off to the metaphor for death, the Gray Havens. The echoes of the trilogy are hard to miss, especially with a scruffy-looking Merry Brandybuck enacting the drama. It also suggests that Hurley may have some more Sam yet to play. Keep this in mind, because according to Tolkien, Sam was the real hero of The Lord of the Rings. But of course, these themes never quite map as nicely as we would like; Sam saves Frodo time and again, and in Lost, it's Des who does the saving. Indeed, Tolkien modeled Sam after the batmen of World War I, the men who had to support the officers as a personal servant. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he calls these people "superior." Des is the soldier in this dynamic.
Next, Charlie's list of the top-five best moments of his life recalls Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. The protagonist Rob is a music aesthete like Charlie, and structures his live around the creation of top five lists — top-five split-ups, top-five songs for Monday mornings, top-five Elvis Costello songs, top-five track-one side-one songs, etc. Charlie categorizes the top-five moments of his life in a kind of existential inventory. And both characters have to make leaps of faith in order to reintegrate their selves. Rob and Charlie may share some superficial similarities, but there is an underlying structure in their respective narratives that many Lost fans have been discussing for some time.
Søren Kierkegaard was a 19th C. philosopher of distinctions, and among them was the distinction between the aesthetic and the ethical. In Either/Or (parts 1 and 2), Fear and Trembling, and Stages on Life's Way, Kierkegaard lays out his distinctions. The aesthete is steeped in material pleasures, romanticized ideals, and his own ego. The main thing the aesthete does is try to find clever ways to manage boredom, often destructively and at the expense of others. Both Rob and Charlie have similar aesthetic preoccupations: music and women. Such aesthetic preoccupation keeps each of these hipsters from fully realizing their true potentials.
The contradistinction to the aesthetic realm is the ethical, which Kierkegaard presents two sides of: social customs and the "teleological suspension of the ethical" (more on that in a minute). In general, to behave ethically is to behave according to the prevailing social norms, and ethical acts benefit the community. But this doesn't quite mean the social lockstep of the Eisenhower era; Liam's cleaning up may be considered a socially ethical act. But these ethics are the socially prevailing ones; for example, no matter what kind of person you are, it is unethical to eat dogs in the Western world, while in parts of Asia, dogs have been raised precisely for food. We eat cows in the West, but that's an ethical taboo in India. Furthermore, by accepting the social ethics, one can transcend the aesthetic mode, because the person moves past the ego and acknowledges the community. This is the crux of Rob's problem in High Fidelity, and his constant top-five lists are little textual reminders of what a hipster aesthete he is. Charlie certainly had his trouble with the social norms; if it isn't the heroin, it's the quasi-religious visions driving him to mad attempts of baptism. He kills Ethan in cold blood and attacks Sun to help set up Sawyer's long con. But through his dealings with Eko, his care for Aaron and Claire, and confronting his own fate, Charlie slowly transcends the strictly aesthetic and develops into a socially ethical person.
Kierkegaard reconciled the aesthetic with the ethical in religious faith. The religious entails the aesthetic's belief in idealistic possibilities and the ethical's belief in social norms, and may take a "teleological suspension of the ethical in order to achieve" — which is where Charlie heads when he accepts the need to sacrifice himself. He is, after all, one of the more religious characters on the island. Kierkegaard gets his "teleological suspension of the ethical" from his reading of Abraham and Isaac (and with that we're solidly back in sacrifice territory). Kierkegaard argues that there is an ethics higher than social norms, and that's when duty to a higher power than the social body is obeyed; but this can't be acted upon until the ethics of social norm are accepted. It's a problematic distinction; Abraham fully accepts his calling despite knowing it's against accepted social norms. But god steps in at the last moment and calls the game, so Abraham didn't have to go through the act. Kierkegaard admires the commitment to the belief that actions have inherent, immutable truth value. However, how far we accept the "teleological suspension of the ethical" also depends on accepting that the subject suspending those social ethics is actually getting some secret orders. The examples of the Jonestown Massacre, the Branch Davidians, and Heaven's Gate are three recent instances where the objects of the sacrifice believed the subject suspending social ethics had a direct hotline to the divine; this also has shades of Ben.
But for believers, everything hangs in the balance based on one's faith, and this also entails a good measure of dread. Dread has its negative side — the choice an individual makes is a choice for eternity — but it also has its positive side, because the individual is in complete control of his destiny. It's worth mentioning that Kierkegaard was a very Protestant thinker, while Charlie is very Catholic; in Charlie's acceptance, he faces down the dread and goes forth, Christ-like, to his demise. He also hasn't gotten any higher callings than Desmond; his commitment and sacrifice is for the community, and that community may be the higher power. Charlie hasn't lost his belief in idealistic possibilities — he still wants to get off the island, plays music, and is happy to hear his band released another record because of his supposed death. He's also accepted the ethics of the social norms of the island; he even confessed his sins to Sun. By diving into the Looking Glass, Charlie takes on the teleological suspension of the ethical (via suicide for a higher purpose), and evolves, religiously, into a realized self (the root of religion is re-ligio, or to re-link or re-connect). Charlie even documents this for us by inventorying his life.
The scene of his diving down, however, has another resonance. In Joseph Campbell's hero's journey monomyth, the hero crosses from the safe world over a series of thresholds into a dangerous realm. Eventually the hero reaches a "cave" where there is no escape, and the original person dies so the new hero can be reborn. Like Noor (Nadia) told Charlie in London after he runs off the mugger, "You are a hero, and don't let anyone tell you differently." Metaphorically, perhaps Charlie did die, and was reborn when he emerged in the Looking Glass. The next step is to find out if he makes it out. The hero can either emerge changed, or can die and someone else takes on the hero mantle.
Top-Five (+Three) Moments from "Greatest Hits" Worth Questioning and Noting:
1. Why isn't Rousseau allowed to be one of the shooters?
2. Jack insists she goes to the radio tower. Nadia was in England with Charlie, and we now know that Naomi is from Manchester as well; who else might Naomi know?
3. Jack is finally accepting his role as a leader, but needed some coaxing from Sayid; this is very similar to the way Sawyer needed coaxing from Hurley.
4. Ben tells Richard that they'll take all the women if necessary — shades of Shiloh from the Book of Judges (as discussed in the previous post).
5. Alex questions if Ben is her real father; how long has she been suspicious, and why? Does she think she was born or conceived off the island?
6. Dexter Stratton isn't a historical figure, but may (most likely) have historical significance in the narrative. If we go with thirty years per generation, that puts Dexter back around the very early 1900s.
7. Did Desmond's flash not come true, or have we just not seen the end of it?
8. How are the Others cooking their rabbit?
Top-Five Scenes from "Greatest Hits"
1. Aaron grabbing at Charlie's face when Charlie tells the tyke goodbye.
2. Bernard hunting Dharma cans.
3. The flashback sticker on Charlie's guitar reading "I Was Here Moments Ago" (he was, in "Flashes Before your Eyes").
4. Alex ripping apart a white rabbit with her hands and taking the gun from Ben.
5. Charlie making it up through the moon pool, without being molested by any sharks, and then meeting Bonnie and Gretta.
Recap by J.Wood