Review of Greatest Hits by Jeff Jensen.
As for me, ''Greatest Hits'' rocked my face like a Pete Townsend guitar solo blasting a front-row groupie at a Who reunion concert. It was kind of a reunion show, wasn't it? Lost's curiously mixed third season has inspired a great deal of whining from those bothered by the way it split the castaways into separate subplots. Despite the absence of John Locke — currently pursuing a solo career as a dying holy man in a mass grave of gassed Dharma bums (maddeningly for some, I'm sure, that story line wasn't addressed last night) — the gang has been back on the beach for a few weeks now, albeit splintered into bickering, suspicious, secret-keeping factions. ''Greatest Hits'' finally collected them into a dynamic unit — you know, just like an actual ''greatest hits'' album. There they were in the opening sequence, the entire frayed Fellowship trekking out into the valley of the foreshadowing of war, led by Jack, their grim Aragorn. Bringing up the rear of this ragtag parade was Charlie, our cheery Frodo, soon to be saddled with an awful ringbearer's task. In fact, ''Greatest Hits,'' heavy with power-chord riffs on friendship, heroism, and weighty responsibilities, was downright Tolkienesque, minus the turgid prose. (My mailbox is ready for your flaming arrows.)
The episode was all about the Oceanic 815 castaways' preparation for the mother of all battles with Ben and his barren, baby-hungry Others — a battle over mothers, actually. In the valley, Jack explained the gory game plan: Let the Others storm the beach, let them raid the tents that Juliet will mark with white stones — and then let them find Black Rock dynamite instead of Sun, Kate, or any of the women. It seems Jack and Juliet have been hatching this scheme for days, even enlisting Danielle Rousseau's help in gathering the explosives out of the old slave ship. (Finally, the loony French castaway's actions in ''The Brig'' are explained.) As he raved about no more running and no more hiding, about one irresistible opportunity to beat Ben at his own 15-moves-ahead chess-playing games, about the chance to expunge once and for all the evildoing terrorists of Quagmire Island, Jack's intensity was more terrifying than inspiring, more obsessive Captain Ahab than cool-headed Captain Picard. ''We're going to blow them all to hell,'' he said, nearly spitting with bloodlust. (Clearly, Jack's Hydra-station character rehabilitation didn't totally stick.)
Here's a question for you: Do you like Jack? I know my wife doesn't. ''He's such a pompous ass,'' she said. I tried to argue the merits of deeply flawed heroes on prime-time television. Amy just rolled her eyes. (Believe me, those brown orbs get plenty of exercise, especially when her husband is in Doc Jensen nuthouse mode.)
Later in the episode, Sayid diagnosed the doctor's problem: Consumed by anger and fear, Jack was more interested in taking down the Others than in getting the castaways off the Island. And the prospect of honest-to-goodness rescue seems to be legit: Sayid believed that Danielle's looping SOS signal was interfering with Naomi's satellite phone; if he could disable the signal, maybe they could make contact with Naomi's ship. But Juliet revealed an additional complication. Apparently, Ben's been jamming the radio tower's frequencies via another Dharma station, this one offshore and underwater, connected at the end of the Cable of Fate that runs into the ocean. (The radio tower, Rousseau's transmission, the cable, black and white motifs, and the sight-for-sore-eyes return of Bernard and Rose and even Nadia — ''Greatest Hits'' was also a proverbial box set of rare but beloved B-side Lost mysteries and arcana.) Our latest Dharma hatch has the most loaded, imagination-firing name: the Looking Glass. Its logo? A white rabbit, of course! At that moment of revelation, a nation of Lost obsessives paused their DVRs and began rummaging for their copies of the Alice books. But ''Greatest Hits'' also pointed toward another fantasy text that's worthy of investigation, one not as famous yet more explicitly Lost-esque. More on that in a second.
Initially, Jack wasn't interested in Sayid's phone-home pipe dream, especially after hearing from Juliet that the Looking Glass was flooded because of an unspecified ''accident'' and that swimming down to flip the jamming switch was basically a suicide mission. But he changed his tune once Karl arrived on the beach with a message: Ben had stepped up the invasion plan. The Others were coming. Now. With his intricately designed counterattack ambush suddenly imperiled, Jack realized there might be not be a chance for rescue; the Looking Glass mission would have to be undertaken ASAP.
Which brought Charlie center stage. And by that time, he was ready for the spotlight, as was his actor, Dominic Monaghan, who I thought turned in his best performance yet on Lost. Desmond's latest Charlie-gonna-die vision suggested that he would be the man for the Looking Glass switch-flipping job. In his mind the psychic Scot saw his fellow Brit inside the hatch, surrounded by gunmen, flipping the switch, then — gulp — drowning. He also saw something else, something that upped Charlie's stake in actually allowing events to unfold as predicted: a helicopter, landing on the beach, taking Claire and baby Aaron off the Island. At last, rescue — but per the perplexing cause-and-effect rules of Desmond's future-seeing powers, the dream would only come true if Charlie was willing to play the part of martyr.
And he was. Even before Desmond spelled it out for him, we saw that Charlie had begun to reconcile himself to the idea that fate was hell-bent on calling his number. To that end, he began making a list of his five favorite moments ever — the ''Greatest Hits'' of his life. It was intended to be a love letter to Claire, but it proved to be so much more. In flashbacks, we saw each of them:
Charlie hears his song ''You All Everybody'' on the radio for the first time It couldn't have come at a better time, too. His band, Driveshaft, was going nowhere. Seriously. Their touring van had busted a wheel during a driving rainstorm. Charlie wanted to quit. The album was tanking, they were only booking loser gigs, they sucked and couldn't face it — and then he heard it, loud and clear on the radio. It was like Island magic on a lame man's legs. Charlie's hope had been rewarded; his optimism restored and hard-wired. (Homework: Compare this moment to Hurley's similarly themed ''Road to Shambala'' broken-Dharma-bus escapade.)
Charlie's father teaches him to swim And with the old ''Trust me, I'll catch you'' bait and switch, no less. Once again on Lost, a father burns his son — but this time, for a good reason. And with the horror story of Ben and his manipulative and mean dad still fresh in our minds, this deceit seemed downright sweet. Lesson learned: Courage.
Charlie's brother gives him the ''DS'' ring for Christmas We used to think ''DS'' stood for Driveshaft. Nope: It was a family heirloom, passed down through the mother's side and given to the firstborn; it stands for Dexter Stratton. Liam gave it to his little brother as an acknowledgment that Charlie really was the good son of the two — an ironic, happy-ending inversion of the Jacob and Esau story, the older brother willingly surrendering the birthright to the younger. The relationship between Charlie and Liam would ultimately become more complicated, but the fact that Charlie decided to memorialize the memory on his list indicated that bygones were bygones. And in doing so, the ring became imbued with forgiveness and grace, making the precioussssss object a mirror twin to the one Gollum killed for and Frodo sought to destroy (but couldn't) in those aforementioned hobbit books. (Fun fact! Dexter Stratton is a fusion of two names from the 1980s Ricky Schroder sitcom Silver Spoons!)
Charlie saves a woman from being mugged and is dubbed a hero In the pouring rain, too — another memory wet with the semiotics of baptism. The timing: Charlie's street-corner minstrel days, first seen in Desmond's time-travel episode. Charlie's song selection: Oasis' ''Wonderwall,'' a tune about an imaginary friend (Dave? Jacob?); its title is a reference to George Harrison's soundtrack to a ''lost'' movie of the same name. The woman whom Charlie saves is also something of a blast from the (Lost) past: It's Nadia, Sayid's Iraqi lady love, last seen in John Locke's ''Daddy made me rip off the Mob'' flashback from last season. The lady sure gets around, doesn't she? But why? Is her presence in these past lives purely coincidental or evidence of a divine (or devious) design that links all the castaways? Questions, I think, for another season to answer....
And finally, Charlie's most favorite moment, No. 1 on his all-time personal hit parade: his first encounter with Claire, on the night they crashed on the Island 'Nuff said.
The irony of Charlie's modest list of ''greatest hits'' is that as a reflection of the life he's lived, it doesn't tell the complete story. You get no taste of Charlie the diaper-shilling sellout, Charlie the grifter-drifter junkie. Like any greatest-hits collection, it ignores all the crappy tunes — you know, the vast majority of an artist's catalog. But what's interesting is how, in the end, the real Charlie Pace becomes the mythic Charlie Pace of his list. Optimistic. Courageous. Heroic. Ready to sacrifice himself for his family, his community, for total strangers. Ready to take the leap of faith that could end his life. You have to wonder if the Island has something to do with it. Here is this magical place that heals and enhances the body. Might it also amplify a person's character or, more specifically, amplify his self-image? If so, then Charlie's list may have saved the day for the castaways, for it visualized a man capable of actually saving the day. Then again, if this idea is valid, what does it say about Jack, Charlie's mirror twin in this episode? Here's a man who tries so hard to be great, who tries so hard to be the hero-leader, yet the undercurrent of doubt, resentment, and anger is always there, ready to ruin his best intentions. Or maybe his worst: For all his bluster about wanting to be a leader, the truth is that's his wounded child talking, desperate to prove his worth to Daddy. Last season, Jack's sneaky save-the-day plan went up in smoke thanks to Michael's betrayal. This time, one wonders if his own bad self will do him and the castaways in. Physician, heal thyself — stat!
But that's next week. This week, there was only triumph. Desmond tried to talk Charlie out of it, even offered to trade places with him — just like the Charles Darnay-Sydney Carton sacrificial swap in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, which was also the title given to the first episode of this season, a title that, finally, here at the end, really begins to make sense. As Charlie dove into the water and toward his destiny, the famous final lines of the novel came to mind: ''It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.'' We watched him as he swam down to the Looking Glass — a stunningly realized, Emmy-worthy triumph of F/X that evoked James Cameron's movie The Abyss. And just when it seemed Charlie was going to run out of air (here's my grandmother, clutching her pounding heart), the former junior swimming champ made it to the moon pool of the hulking deep-sea station and discovered — air! The place wasn't flooded, after all. (That Ben — such a liar.) But it was staffed with cute girls in jumpsuits with big guns, and as the episode came to a close, they had their weapons trained on Charlie's head, and suddenly we remembered: Desmond's prophecy is still very much in effect.
Take It or Leave It
Connections and observations that may have something to do with something or nothing to do with anything:
''The looking-glass self'' A psychological concept that states that we craft our identity based on how we are seen and deemed useful by society. The Jack and Charlie arcs in this episode in particular resonated with this idea.
The Moon Pool, by Abraham Merritt A 1919 ''lost world'' novel, filled with Lost resonance. A mysterious island in the South Pacific. A morally ambiguous monster. A scientist-skeptic hero. A duplicitous Russian villain. A battle royal between good and evil. Check out this synopsis.
Jacob's Room, by Virginia Woolf Why didn't we get this reference last week when Ben took Locke to the haunted house in the jungle to meet the literally elusive godfather of the Others? This book merits serious investigation in regard to the mystery of Jacob and, more to the point, Locke's experience of the mystery of Jacob. I'm wondering if Lost was nodding toward this book last night when Charlie mentioned the Night and Day Cafe in Manchester. Now, there is a real Night and Day Cafe in Manchester. But Night and Day also happens to be the book Woolf wrote right before Jacob's Room. Read this take on the latter novel's plot, then consider again Locke's experience of Jacob's room. Illuminating.
The Return of the Jedi Here's more fodder for all of you who see Lost as a latter-day Star Wars: Luke and the gang going down to the moon of Endor to deactivate the shield protecting the second Death Star = Charlie going down to the underwater Looking Glass to deactivate the jamming device keeping the Island hidden from the world. C'mon now! Are you with me?
1. I think Naomi is full of crap. Her story about how Driveshaft became popular again after the crash, how a greatest-hits album was released and became a big hit — all fibs designed to ingratiate herself further with the castaways and further sell this implausible story of how Oceanic 815 was found, along with the dead bodies of all its passengers. Are you really buying this ''second plane'' theory? And even if you are, doesn't it bug you that the castaways aren't more bugged by it and aren't even questioning this mystery lady's integrity?
2. The Jin-Sun moment — one among many scenes devoted to the couplings among the castaways. (It was not for nothing, I think, that everyone was busy tying knots in this episode.) Why can't Sun bring herself to tell Jin the truth about the Curse that dooms pregnant women on the Island?
3. Charlie-Hurley, the real Ruth and Naomi of Lost. I found their ''If you leave, I will follow anywhere'' parting vaguely end-of-Gilmore Girls-ish. And I gotta admit, I cried. Did you?
4. And last but not least: Charlie. Do you think he's a goner next episode? (FYI: For more about Dominic Monaghan, his thoughts on Charlie, and his future on Lost, check out this week's EW, on sale today. It features a profile on the actor, written by my good friend and colleague Dan Snierson. He even got to visit the Looking Glass set! Lucky dog!)
Recap by Jeff Jensen