"Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle." - Jack Shephard
The tenth episode of Season Four, Something Nice Back Home, makes a considerable departure from the prevailing trends of the season. The dealings of Benjamin Linus played a significant role in each of the previous nine episodes, but Ben does not even have his name mentioned here. The episode serves almost as the polar opposite of The Shape of Things to Come, which immediately preceded it. Episode 4.09 concerned itself almost exclusively with external conflicts, while Episode 4.10 deals primarily with what is going inside each character’s head. The outcomes of the two main plotlines (Jack’s life-threatening illness and his relationship with Kate and Aaron) were never in doubt. Jack’s flash forwards guaranteed that his life was not in any real jeopardy and that his engagement with Kate was doomed from the start. This particular script tells its story using dialogue rather than action. The episode manages to tie together an impressive number of separate story strands into a coherent whole, and, in the process, sets the stage for the inevitable season-ending exodus from the island.
A grand total of sixteen different actors take on significant speaking roles in this episode, and almost every one of them uncovers something noteworthy. A number of supporting players, which generally tend to be ignored, assume more important positions. The chronically underused Claire reveals that she has been seeing things (and we all know that no person on the island is ever just seeing things). Christian Shephard, the island’s most persistent ghost, leads his daughter off into the jungle for another trip into the island's wonderland. Sun and Jin share what will be some of their final moments together, and set in motion their imminent separation.
Each of the four members of the helicopter crew shows some individual personality and distances themselves from Keamy and his thugs. (The exact nature of their relationship between Charles Widmore and Matthew Abbadon, the man who recruited these four, remains unknown at this point, so there might be two conflicting agendas on the Freighter.) Daniel expresses his desire to serve the common good, Miles begins to show some heart for a change, and Frank saves the day with some quick thinking. Charlotte not only acknowledges some degree of affection between Daniel and herself, but she also makes a secret deal with Jin, and in Korean no less. Expect both revelations to play a role in her future storylines. The pace of Season Four left little room for character development of these additions to the cast, but these instances suggest that the new personalities will not be ignored forever.
With Jack out of commission in this episode, Dr. Juliet Burke steps in as the de facto leader of the beach camp. Not long ago, she was still working to earn the trust of people like Kate and Sun, but her assertiveness under pressure gains her their full cooperation. Her decision-making in this situation is both capable and efficient. Not only does she handle the crisis like a natural, but she becomes equally decisive when the time comes to resolve her involvement with Jack. In past episodes, Juliet always felt like something of a loner, both while she was working as an Other and after she joined the crash survivors. Here, she separates herself even further from personal attachments, and defines herself through actions rather than relationships. Juliet’s future status remains one of the unknown questions for the remainder of Season Four. Three main possibilities exist for her: she could leave, she could stay alive on the island, or she could die. If she remains on the island, would she once again work for Ben, or would she join the downsized group of castaways? If she stays put, then Dr. Burke might replace Dr. Shephard permanently as the camp’s lead decision-maker.
Sawyer’s role has taken in an interesting turn over the past two episodes, as circumstance has thrust him into the role of protector for Claire and Aaron. Not very long ago, Sawyer referred to the prospect of taking care of a baby as “the worst thing in the world,” but now he performs pretty admirably as he takes on some parental responsibilities. Most of his dialogue here involves Miles, who serves as a reminder that contrasts Sawyer's former state against his present self. Many viewers suspect that Sawyer and Claire soon may be involved in yet another island love connection. Claire called out Charlie’s name when Sawyer awoke her after the explosion, which might foreshadow that he will replace Charlie in her life. Although the romantic angle is a possibility, Sawyer’s motivations here stem from a different source than Charlie’s. Sawyer reacts in an extremely protective manner almost instinctively. When James sees the young mother Claire in mortal danger, he must feel as if he is reliving his own childhood trauma. Claire becomes a proxy for his own mother, while Aaron becomes a representation of himself. The flash forward scenes draw a further comparison between young James and young Aaron; not only do the two young boys look alike, but Aaron even walks into a domestic scene that probably resembles life at the Ford household.
Although flash-forward scenes focus on Jack, Kate plays almost as prominent a role from start to finish. Kate’s engagement with Jack does not follow the exact same course as her previous marriage to Kevin, but there are some common ingredients. She does not run away from the relationship fully, but she does not exactly commit to it either. Kate chooses to marry Jack and yet still carry on an intimate connection with her former lover in secret. She lies to Jack, in order to keep that one part of her life hidden from him. Not surprisingly, that one element revolves around a commitment she made to Sawyer. She barely even needs to mention his name, and at first she just refers to *Him*. Jack’s response is way out-of-line, but his jealousy is not unfounded. The episode Eggtown toyed with the possibility that she might be pregnant with Sawyer’s child, before revealing that she was raising Aaron. Just as in her previous flash forwards, Kate continues to speak with conviction when she refers to Aaron as 'my son'. Quite possibly, Kate may have convinced herself that Aaron rightfully does belong to her. During the period where she thought that she was pregnant, she might have grown accustomed to the idea. Furthermore, Aaron not only looks very much like James, but Sawyer might be the one who physically gives the baby to her. Regardless of your interpretation of her behavior, there are still some deep feelings between Kate and Sawyer that need to be addressed.
The primary storyline here revolves around Jack, and highlights the full spectrum of his deepest hopes and fears. The first scene begins with the recurring image of Jack’s eye opening, and also adds a very provocative line into the mix: “Jack, I need you to wake up”. This opening line establishes a ‘dream world’ motif that plays a very significant role throughout the rest of this story. Two of the flash-forward sequences involve transitions that call into question whether the events on-screen are indeed a part of the show’s reality. Jack faints on the island immediately before his first flash-forward scene, and then he wakes up in a world that makes all of his fantasies come true. Initially, leads a seemingly perfect post-island life, on course to lead a loving relationship with Kate that erases his previous failed marriage, and also to help raise Aaron much differently than way his own father did. Even from the beginning, though, there are signs of turmoil: his wakeup call indicates that Jack has difficulty with his calendar, and Kate calls attention to his growing facial hair, a symbol which marks Jack's deterioration.
Later on in the episode, Bernard uses chloroform to put Jack under during his surgery, and the scene once again flashes to the future. Bernard described that the experience would be pleasant, just like “dreaming of something nice back home”. This phrase, from which this episode takes its name, transforms into a cruelly ironic reversal. Before going under, Jack remains adamant that he does not want to fall unconscious, almost as if he knows exactly what the future has in store for him. By this point in the story, Jack’s idyllic dream world has transformed into a nightmare. Jack's clothing offers a visual cue for the impending doom: a white shirt, a light blue shirt, and a dark gray shirt. In the later flash-forward scenes, all of his deepest fears become reality. Christian flees before Jack can speak with him, Kate begins to deceive him about a secret life just as Sarah did, and Jack himself becomes the same type of out-of-control, substance-abusing parent that he once hated.
The story also introduces other elements to highlight the theme of fantasy and reality even further. Jack reads Aaron a passage from Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (I whole-heartedly recommend Adventures in Wonderland to any Lost fan who has not read it. Two previous Jack episodes also referenced Carroll’s famous stories: Season One’s White Rabbit and Season Three’s Through the Looking Glass. More importantly, though, the book is phenomenal on it own.) Carroll’s works not only serve as great children’s stories, but they also contain layers that can be only fully appreciated by adults. Alice’s wonderland is a product of her own imagination, and it too serves as part idealized fantasy and part nightmare. Jack reads a particularly philosophical passage of the text as Aaron's bedtime. In the selected piece, Alice questions the seeming paradox of how a person can continue to grow and change over time and yet maintain their identity - heavy stuff for a two year old child. He continues to read aloud even after Aaron has fallen asleep, suggesting that he is reading the story to himself more than anyone else.
Later on, another character also comes to question the nature of the show’s reality. When Jack visits him back in the mental institution, Hurley offers his own interpretation of events, comparing their present situation to the afterlife:
“We’re dead. All of us. All of the Oceanic Six – we’re dead. We never got off that island. […] Living with Kate, taking care of Aaron, it all seems so perfect. Just like heaven. […] I was happy too, Jack. For a while anyway. Then I saw Charlie.”
Interestingly, Hurley’s current perspective now reverses his delusions from the Season Two episode Dave. Before, Hurley believed that the island was a fantasy and that Santa Rosa was reality, but now he has come to believe the exact opposite. Hugo’s comments add yet another layer of doubt to the reality Jack’s experiences. However, it would be a mistake to suggest that the events of Something Nice Back Home literally amount to nothing more than a dream. Instead, these details provide a metaphor to interpret the story. Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud argued that our dreams are largely the manifestations of the unconscious. Unconscious fears and desires can manifest themselves in many other ways in life, and not only while a person is asleep. In Hugo’s case, an overwhelming case of survivor guilt causes him to lose his tenuous grip on reality. Previously, his guilt over his involvement in the catastrophic deck collapse triggered his first mental breakdown. It might be easy to chalk up Hurley’s interactions with his two imaginary friends (Dave and Charlie) only to the power of the island, but there are deeper psychological forces in effect here. The island does not need Hurley as much as Hurley needs the island: in order to repair his self-image, he needs to return to the friends that he abandoned.
Hurley’s words certainly shake Jack’s psyche down to its core, as they both predict and accelerate Jack’s breakdown. Jack tries his best to deny that his happiness is doomed to failure: “Just because I’m happy doesn’t mean it’s not real.” The guilt of leaving people behind plays a part here, but there are also other, more twisted motives at play. Jack’s downfall provides a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy: a prediction that indirectly causes itself to become true. Twentieth century sociologist Robert Merton first defined this term for social theory, and it has since been applied to the field of psychology as well. If you raise a child to think that he does not ‘have what it takes’ (just as Christian did), then he will probably become an emotional wreck. If a man feels convinced that his wife will be unfaithful and abandon him, then he may behave in a way that pushes her away. If a man believes that he cannot become a good husband and a good father, then his fears can affect his behavior in a way that causes him to fail. For Jack Shephard, there is little difference between a nightmare and real-life. Jack's unconscious still finds a way to manifest itself in the real world. His ideas about himself become reality simply because he believes them to be true.
Even before the episode aired, many fans had suggested that the continued appearances of the deceased Christian Shephard would play a key role in Jack’s self-destruction. This conjecture turned out to be true, but not exactly in the same way most people expected. Jack experiences two such visions in this episode. First, Jack catches a glimpse of his father walking away from him inside a crowded hospital lobby, complete with plants reminiscent of the jungle. Importantly, this first appearance occurs before Hurley warns him of a coming visitor. After his conversation with Hurley (and notably just before his marriage proposal to Kate), Jack seeks out the bench that Hurley mentioned, but finds nothing. Later on, Christian appears in the same lobby, and even calls out Jack’s name. Instead of avoiding him, Jack walks directly towards Christian. After these aborted attempts to communicate, Jack begins drinking and destroys his relationship with Kate and Aaron.
The episode carefully lays the groundwork for a meaningful exchange between Jack and Christian, but the conversation never materializes. Instead, Christian interacts with his daughter Claire rather than his son. Jack’s life does not fall apart simply because Christian appears to him. Instead, his dream life deteriorates because he desperately wants to talk to Christian, but he cannot. If Jack had the ability to sit down on a bench and chat with Christian, the experience would not only be ‘kinda cool’ as Hurley says, but it would be a life-changing event for him. The white-shoed manifestations of Christian Shephard have always served as Jack’s own personal white rabbit, but he still has not caught up to him even after four seasons. In order to achieve any lasting happiness, Jack still needs to complete his initial task: to bury his father and bring closure to those unresolved issues at the heart of his suffering. Unfortunately for him, the island might be the only place where he could achieve this result.
Last but not least in this episode, Rose and Bernard prominently share one of the most meaningful dialogues of the season. Last year, the two characters were ignored to such a degree that many fans theorized that the island had crossed over into an alternate timeline in which Nikki and Paolo took their place. (Personally, I wish that Rose and Bernard played a similar role in every episode.) In many ways, this couple represents the heart of the show: literally, they demonstrate a successful marriage between a man of science and a woman of faith. Their exchange in this episode highlights their difference of perspectives, but it also speaks volumes of deeper significance about the overall storyline. Bernard claims that “people get sick” everywhere, but Rose retorts: “Not here. Here, they get better.” Rose’s recovery from cancer and Locke’s cured paralysis offer the two most dramatic examples of the island’s healing powers. Alternatively, Jack’s sudden outset of appendicitis now provides a major counterexample. A flash forward scene, in which Jack examines a patient's X-Ray, offers a subtle reminder of Ben's previous spinal tumor. While the explanation for these events may not be as simple as Bernard’s suggestion that they ‘offended the gods,’ there may be some element of truth here. Both illnesses seem to represent physical expressions of an internal sickness. Jack started to experience pain just when as he began to lose confidence in himself, and perhaps Ben went through a similar experience.
Beyond the physical level, though, Rose’s statement also applies to the broader sense of the phrase ‘get better’. Personal growth served as a recurring theme since the beginning of the series, and most storylines suggested that the island also allows individuals to heal from emotional wounds. This version of the island’s healing process occurs at a much slower rate, but the results can be no less miraculous. The Oceanic Six storyline in Season Four now introduces the corollary question: will a person feel better or worse if they leave the island? Hurley noted that he became happy for a while, before everything collapsed lower than ever before. In this episode, Jack, Kate, and Hurley demonstrated that their psychological scars have not fully healed. Meanwhile, a cloud of doom hangs over Aaron’s head, and Sayid and Sun also are struggling with a host of new problems. If the island does serve as a place where people can ‘get better,’ can its effects last into the future? Did these characters just abandon the island too soon before it fixed them permanently, or will fate condemn them forever to need the island in order to feel better? Is anyone ever supposed to leave? The answer to this question certainly will have a profound effect on the ultimate ending of the series.
Of course, there is another, even darker, possible response to Rose’s suggestion. Her voice is loaded with a sense of doubt. Her comment that “here, people get better” comes across as less of a statement of fact and more of an open-ended question. Perhaps the honest reply here would be: “No, people don’t get better.” Hurley implies that if a person is happy, then the happiness must not be real. For Lost characters, this statement might hold true. The past, the present, and the future seem to be uniformly bleak. Old problems do not disappear, but they merely re-emerge in different forms. If the characters were happy, then the show's title would no longer apply.
Maybe, as Christian Shephard used to tell all of his kiddos, some people are just supposed to suffer.
Article by Luhks