With only three episodes remaining, the grand canvas of Lost’s fifth chapter is coming into view. Even after several months, the season premiere still seems like a fresh part of the collective consciousness. As with its season-opening predecessors, the first scene of Season Five established the overarching tone for the story that followed. Man of Science, Man of Faith began with button-pusher Desmond peering up from the Swan station at Locke and Jack above him. A Tale of Two Cities introduced trouble in paradise for Ben and Juliet in the Others’ village. The Beginning of the End highlighted the tenuous return to civilization for the Oceanic Six. Because You Left shifted the spotlight away from the core group of characters into the Chang family home. Nearly every element of that scene hinted at the story elements to be explored over the next few months: the inner workings of the Dharma Initiative, the ongoing war with the Hostiles, time travel, the famous Hitler hypothetical, dead characters reborn, uncovering ancient ruins, false identities, domestic tranquility disrupted by crises, mothers, fathers, and children.
Episode 5.13 Some Like it Hoth revisits that same family unit of Miles, Lara, and Pierre (and even finishes with the return of Daniel Faraday, the other principal character from the opening scene). Over the first half of this season, the Wheel at the Orchid station caused Lost’s temporal structure to fall out of joint like Chang’s beloved Willie Nelson record. After a period of uncertainty, the past four episodes have returned to the traditional single character-centric format, along with its steady rhythm of flashbacks. Compared to Sayid’s He’s Our You, Kate’s Whatever Happened, Happened, and Ben’s Dead is Dead, the melody of Miles' Some Like it Hoth sounds the most similar to classical Lost tunes. Like many seminal episodes from the first three seasons, this first-ever Miles episode provides a fresh look at the inner life of a character with a tough outer shell. Early in the episode, Miles speaks some words central to almost every character on the show: “I need you to tell me why I'm this way... how... how I do the things I do. And I need to know […] about my father.” (Later, Bram tries to recruit him to his team, by offering that same reward.) Miles does not obtain any easy answers to his questions, but his journey on and off the Island does give the viewer an understanding of how Miles evolved from the infant from Because You Left into the misanthropic hustler of Confirmed Dead.
After a streak of considerably self-referential episode titles, the name Some Like it Hoth derives its meaning from two films outside the Lost universe: the classic 1959 comedy Some Like it Hot, from Billy Wilder; and The Empire Strikes Back, the 1980 sequel to Star Wars. Lost is no stranger to Star Wars references, but it has acknowledged liberally the influence of the famous movie saga along the way. For people like Hurley and for the writers of Lost, Star Wars represents more than just a movie series, but a common point of cultural reference as useful as The Bible or The Odyssey. Three decades after George Lucas set out to bring his vision to the big screen, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof approached an ambitious television project with many of the same objectives. The two works exist at the intersection of past and future. Both Star Wars and Lost seek to create an enduring cultural myth, within a science-fiction universe. The heroes still fit many of the same basic archetypes (the prodigy chasing his father's shadow, the martyred mentor, the reformed every-man-for-himself scoundrel, the bumbling sidekicks), and the basic religious and psychological roots remain the same. Whereas Lucas' films pushed the limits of technology in the film industry, Lost has experimented with narrative techniques. Working as a serial ensemble drama, Lost has been able to dig much deeper into the minds of its characters and the substance of its literary sources.
The Star Wars trilogy has served as such a predominant influence on Lost, and the references in many episodes are so overt, that it is difficult to know exactly how far to extend the analogy. Hurley’s discussion of the famous ending to The Empire Strikes Back deserves special attention. Although Empire is the second film in the saga, it is officially known as Episode V. This reference might hold greater significance when the final segments of Season Five are complete. Perhaps the Empire (Widmore? Dharma?) will re-establish itself on the Island stronger than ever. Perhaps another character (Daniel?) is being set up for an “I am your father”-type revelation. Perhaps some other novel twist is in store to turn our perception of the Lost universe upside down. Despite Hurley’s attempts to change the past and to re-write the script, the climactic sixth chapter in this saga is also inevitable. WIth Hurley's editorial comments about Return of the Jedi, the writers of Lost make one difference abundantly clear: they feel confident that they can produce a more satisfying ending than Lucas did. A year from now, we can judge how well they lived up to that boast. For now, the new group of players led by Ilana and Bram operates more like Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt, and less like the Ewoks. Hugo is not the only one trying to make some 'minor improvements' to his beloved saga.
Hurley also makes a direct analogy between the central father-son conflict of The Empire Strikes Back and the relationship of Miles and Pierre Chang. This comparison does not make much intuitive sense, but Hurley's heart is in the right place as he tries to encourage his friend to re-connect with family. In fact, the core elements of the relationship seem to be backwards. Luke led his life idolizing his dead father, with the false belief that Anakin died as a genuine hero. Lara Chang convinced her son to despise his father, by claiming that he abandoned his family for selfish reasons. Dr. Chang's heartwarming interactions with his infant son suggests the opposite. The ultimate revelation of this story is not the identity of Miles' dad, but the reversal of perspective on his true nature. Most likely, Pierre sent his wife and son away from the Island, because (much like Jin earlier in this season) he wanted to save his loved ones from certain death. The enigmatic Dr. Pierre Chang has concealed his true nature behind many different masks: Dr. Marvin Candle of the Swan, Dr. Mark Wickmund of the Pearl, and Dr. Edgar Halliwax of the Orchid. The most important role of his life is still to come: to do whatever is necessary to convince his wife to leave the Island forever, even if it means that she will hate him. Based on the Swan orientation video, the older Chang in the family (as opposed to the younger Skywalker) will lose a limb along the way.
This episode offers fewer connections to its other main cinematic allusion, Some Like it Hot. The film is widely regarded as one of the top comedies of all time. Hot's Lost counterpart mixes in plenty of similar story elements: music, booze, buddies on the road, and people living under false identities. The title phrase ‘some like it hot’ comes from a discussion of musical tastes midway through the film. Jazz musician Joe (played by Tony Curtis) disguises himself as a millionaire named Junior, in an effort to impress lounge singer Sugar (played by Marilyn Monroe). When she expresses her enthusiasm for hot jazz music, Junior takes the opportunity to look down his nose: “That fast music, jazz? […] Well, I guess some like it hot. I personally prefer classical music.” Lost’s Some Like it Hoth includes its own variation on this highbrow/lowbrow distinction. Here, Lara Chang’s appreciation for jazz (specifically Miles Davis) makes her appear more refined in comparison to her husband, a country music fan. This script has no aspirations of snobbery, but it is particularly concerned with embracing its populist roots: not only with Hurley’s opinions on Star Wars, but also some beer guzzling, jokes about foul odors, polar bear poop, diaper-changing, the circle of trust, necrophilia, fish tacos, use of the word douche, and a cumbersome pun on the little Dutch boy with his finger in the Doc. The emphatically unpretentious dialogue from Gregg Nations and Melinda Hsu more closely matches the tone of Kevin Smith than the films of Wilder or Lucas. Some Like it Hoth positions Lost about as far away from high-culture affectations as possible.
(On a personal note, writer/director Billy Wilder is my favorite filmmaker, and I could not resist giving his movies my highest recommendation. However, Some Like it Hot is actually my least favorite among his works. If you want to experience two Wilder masterpieces, then I suggest The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard. Those two films stand right alongside the first two Star Wars films among my personal favorites.)
Our familiar Lost characters might not be using humorous disguises and voices like the protagonists of Some Like it Hot, but nevertheless their cover with the Dharma Initiative is about to be blown. Despite an extensive résumé of cons and deceptions, and after fooling the entire world with the Oceanic Six Lie, the Lost team cannot match wits with an incompetent security guard and a drunk janitor. Dharma's other unfriendly father figure, Roger Linus, plays a prominent role in the episode. Mr. Linus might not be the world’s greatest dad, but even he tends to notice something amiss when his dying son disappears from the infirmary. Both Kate and Jack have some experience in dealing with a parent who has a drinking problem. Roger allows them to use those old dysfunctional habits once more. Kate decides to take pity on the poor guy and drink a Dharma brew alongside him. Jack first tries to cover for his inebriated co-worker, and then becomes confrontational when things begin to unravel. Interestingly, Miles is not the only person who has passed up a second chance to contact his dead father. The mainland is only a submarine ride away. James could be getting even with dad, or Kate could be making amends with Wayne, or Jack could be working with Christian rather than cleaning up after his fellow workman. For many people (including Back to the Future's Marty McFly), checking in on your parents would be the first thing to do if you were transported thirty years in the past. In Hurley's words: "It all could've been avoided if they'd just, you know, communicated." These Lost souls have decided to take their chances with Dharma and the Hostiles rather than confront their own personal Darth Vaders.
Moreover, this side plot exposes one of the central ideas of the overall 1977 Dharma storyline. Apparently, whenever someone sets out to try to do some good, they end up causing harm instead. When Kate makes an effort to ease Roger’s pain, his mind jumps from despair to angry suspicion. When Jack tries to defuse his fears, he amplifies Roger’s paranoia even further. Similarly, James escalates the growing crisis when he punches out Phil. Thus far, the group’s primary accomplishments have been to bring Ethan into the world and to corrupt the innocence of young Benjamin Linus. Their hearts may be in the right place, and even their heads as well, but the end results are pretty far off the mark. Hugo still clings to the naïve hope that the past can be rewritten, for something as minor as the Star Wars trilogy or as significant as global warming. If Faraday has returned to try to prevent future tragedies, expect the results to be nothing short of catastrophic. (The episode includes two other smaller images of failed efforts to alter history: Miles’ aborted attempt to delete the surveillance footage, and Jack’s interrupted effort to erase a lesson on ancient Egypt.) When Luke Skywalker tried to lift his X-Wing from the swamps of Dagobah, it sunk all the way to the bottom. Yoda's famous advice echoes Lost's fatalistic approach: "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try." On this Island, effort and good intentions lead to failure.
The Star Wars universe used the term 'the Force' (an energy field that connects all living things) to explain its fantasy aspects. The Island of Lost of course emanates its own powerful forces as well. Electromagnetism serves as a key element of Lost's science-fiction mythology, and a metaphor for the Island's overall power. In this episode, Alvarez, Dharma’s unfortunate ditch-digger, suffered the consequences of whatever unrestrained forces rest under the Swan construction site. Hurley offers a reminder that the Swan station pulled the Oceanic airliner out of the sky decades after it ripped out Alvarez’s filling. On a more symbolic level, the Island’s powers to attract and to repel include more than just metal objects. Oceanic 815, the Kahana freighter, and Ajira 316 all seem to be drawn in by the Island’s attractive forces. The Island follows its own rules of magnetism of human beings: it pushes away the majority of the world is pushed away, and it draws only a few special individuals toward it. The more such people gathered in the same place, the greater their aggregate charge becomes. Season Five has slowly revealed that Charlotte, Daniel, and now Miles were all children of the Island to different degrees. Looking back on Confirmed Dead, the energy surrounding the helicopter must have been off the charts.
This story goes to great lengths to explain the precise nature of Miles’ supernatural gift. His initial off-island flashback scene from Season Four implied that Miles could speak with the souls of the dead. This episode scales back his communication skills, into one-way eavesdropping on the deceased. The central contradiction of his character remains intact. As I wrote after episode 4.02: “Many other characters would rejoice at the chance to speak with the departed, but, in a true Lost reversal, the only dead people Miles cares about are the dead presidents printed on bills.” To put things delicately, Mr. Straume is not exactly a people person. The revised take on his powers offers some insight into how Miles’ colorful personality took shape. At the age of eight, he was already exposed to things far beyond his years. Unlike Hurley’s experience, in which friendly ghosts keep him company, Miles’ link to the spirit world amplified his loneliness. Spirits could not listen to anything he said to them, and his mother did not lend a sympathetic ear, either. His solution was to shut out the rest of the world as best he could. Hearing the unfiltered thoughts of the dead must have altered his perspective of humanity in other ways as well. In Confirmed Dead, Miles argued that there was no point in taking care of Naomi’s body: “What’s the point? […] It’s just meat.” This episode carries its somewhat nihilistic meat comparison even further, with Alvarez’s corpse delivered alongside a case of sandwiches, and Felix’s body examined inside the kitchen of a restaurant. Miles’ sixth sense causes him to view the body itself in material terms. He does not hear the voice of the soul, but only those thoughts physically stored in the brain at the time of death. A corpse is just a package, which might contain some valuable information. (Interestingly, Chang's examination of Alvarez's body is equally swift and precise. Pierre shares several elements of his son's personality as well, and perhaps the family curse.)
The flashback storyline highlights Miles' search for the truth about his own past. Miles could have waited until after his mother's death, and then learned all of the information from her that he needed. Instead, he made a point to ask those questions while he was still alive. Like the grieving father Mr. Gray, Miles might not have been searching for the truth, but for peace of mind. Later, when Bram's mysterious group gives him a second chance to learn the truth, Miles turns down the offer once more. In 1977, the Island offers him daily opportunities to interact with his dead father. Which belief would cause Miles more pain: thinking that his father never mattered in the first place, or feeling that he lost such a special person? The final sequence of the episode includes what is, in my opinion, the most poignant moment of the time travel story, and one of the best scenes of Season Five. The image speaks volumes on its own. The sight not only transforms his view of Pierre, but Miles will never be able to look at himself in the same way. Miles tried to believe that he never missed out on anything worthwhile. Now that Miles understands exactly what he lost, soon he will lose it all over again. All of us have a few holes in our hearts, but that empty space exists to remind us of the substance that once stood in its place.