He was cursed and crazy, so out of touch with reality that an imaginary man became his best friend, and an insane man with a vocabulary of six words was his greatest intellectual inspiration. His unearned wealth could not prevent the misfortune that visited all who came into his influence. His father left him, his grandfather died at the lottery press conference, his best friend on the Island was drowned, his girlfriend was murdered. Even the woman who interviewed him was smashed to dust in a meteor strike. He was artless, witless, helpless, hopeless.
In an Island world that prized the strange symmetries of mirror reflection, he provided the most interesting and useful insights into human capacities for harmony. His mirror revealed a reality replete with good fortune, charity, and good will. “I’m the luckiest man alive,” he said, a smile brightening his cheerful face.
“Oh, the ‘sideways world’,” some say, scoffing. “Purgatory.” No. Not purgatory, but reality. In the dark days of the Smoke Monster, his golf tournament brought sunshine. In the most memorable scene of Season Three, he proved bad luck is a state of mind. And in the last minutes of the series, his humanity and clarity of vision were honoured with the Island’s most sacred trust. The mirror revealed a man with greater sanity than any of us possess, a man so blessed that he was entrusted with the very future of humankind. For our sake, for our grandfathers’ and girlfriends’ and children’s sake, we must move beyond the curses and craziness of our lives and adopt instead the peaceful ways, the sane and blessed symmetries of this gentle man, Hugo Reyes.
The First Curse
Admittance to the pantheon of the Island had one strict requirement, and Hurley paid the requisite dues even before reaching his teen years. His mother could be saint or sinner, his youth could see privilege or poverty, but in order to find his way to the Island, his father had to be a scoundrel. Jack’s father was an alcoholic, Kate’s father was a low-life bum, and Locke’s father was a swindler. Hurley, the man who would inherit the throne of Jacob, was given the worst kind of father. David Reyes said he wanted to go fishing, said he would help his son repair the Camaro, said his son mattered, but then revealed in his actions that everything he said was a lie. Hurley’s only solace, when his father abandoned him, was the chocolate bar he held in his hands.
How does a boy react when the only significant person in his life tells him that he does not matter? Hurley took the words to heart. He had no value to others, to himself, to anything of importance. His only contribution to the world would be to serve as a curse. As he grew into adulthood he returned to the only sources of happiness he knew: food and friends.
His mother mattered to him. His friends were important. Since his enjoyment of life was of no consequence, having a positive influence on the happiness of others came to bear increasing degrees of significance to him. Even if he was worthless, perhaps he could leave a positive mark in the world, however slight, by making his friends’ comfort and joy his primary aim. It was a laudable and charitable disposition, though thankless in many ways. While his friends benefitted immeasurably from his selfless commitment to their good cheer, he remained morose, convinced he was a blight. When a deck collapsed under his weight, killing two people, he lost any ability to deal with reality.
The six Valenzetti coefficients, broadcast on a continuous loop by the Dharma Initiative radio station, drove Leonard Simms insane. The reaction could have been worse; Leonard’s partner at the Navy listening post, Sam Toomey, took his own life to end the curse of the numbers. When Hurley used the numbers to win the Mega Lotto Jackpot his troubles should have disappeared. Instead, he experienced even greater degrees of misery. His grandfather died, the house he purchased for his mother burned, the man cleaning his lawyer’s office windows fell to his death. Misfortune followed everyone around Hurley.
The curse did not originate with Hurley. The Valenzetti Equation was a product of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was humankind’s ultimate curse, defining the number of years until the human race annihilated itself, “whether through nuclear fire, chemical and biological warfare, conventional warfare, pandemic, overpopulation.”
Valenzetti is referenced only once in LOST, in the lower left corner of the Swan Station blast door map, where a cryptic notation indicates “low relevance to Valenzetti-related research activity.” But without an understanding of the Valenzetti Equation, the final hour of LOST constitutes the culmination of a simple adventure story. On the other hand, with the grand equation in hand, we discover its solution, and we understand the thesis of LOST. I will have more to say about the Valenzetti Equation at the end of this essay.
The numbers permeated the series, from Jack’s seat number (twenty-three) in Episode 1.01 to Rousseua’s map to the Swan Station serial number to Hurley’s investiture as Protector. Episodes that did not feature references overt or sublime to the six famous integers were unusual. Perhaps there were a handful of such episodes in which writers absent-mindedly forgot to place at least one easily-recognised allusion. It didn’t matter; bloggers and analysts made up the references if they were lacking.
The numbers surrounded Hurley, which he first understood as a curse. Whether scourge or benefit, the numbers were connected to Hurley as they were to no one else, and he would have to learn to walk his path with them or in spite of them. More than any other element of the LOST mythology, the numbers were imbued with a heavy sense of inevitability. Because the strongest mythological undercurrents of the series pointed toward the numbers, we knew subconsciously that Hurley would be involved at the highest levels of the final resolution. The fact that Jacob instructed Hurley to bring Jack to the lighthouse (Episode 6.05) was no accident, and neither was it a direct result of Hurley’s ability to speak with the dead. Jacob knew he had to save Jack and Hurley from the Man in Black’s ravaging of the Temple because these two Candidates were destined to become Protectors. Far from acting as a curse, the number eight carved into the cave ceiling next to Hurley’s name proved to be both his salvation and his destiny.
Golf Together or...
Hurley thought himself cursed. If asked, he would almost certainly have said he was not happy. Yet he brought more happiness into the lives of his fellow survivors than anyone else on the Island. Episode Nine’s golf game was certainly the most memorable diversion of Season One, organised at Hurley’s insistence when he realised everyone was becoming unnecessarily stressed by the strange events in the jungle.
Whether he was dispensing smiles to cheer up depressed survivors, giving Jin a thumbs up when he rose in the morning, organising golf games, or distributing food from the Dharma pantry, Hurley was the supreme instigator of almost every movement toward what my generation called peace, love, and togetherness.
Perhaps we occasionally saw him as the comic, or the buffoon—the humorous relief in otherwise cheerless situations. Perhaps we considered the golf game and later events as merely the diversions that everyone at the time must have understood them to be. But Hurley’s leadership in the social realm had far greater consequences than a mere afternoon’s entertainment. Live together, die alone, Jack was wont to say. Yet Jack became a dividing point, not a centre of attraction or reconciliation. Hurley liked just about everyone, and everybody loved Hurley. Even in the most trying situation, Hurley endeavoured to bring people together. Jack had an intellectual awareness of his famous motto. Hurley carried the motto in his heart, lived by its words, and practiced them in almost every phrase he uttered and every action he took. The successful resolution of the great conflict—the battle with the Smoke Monster—was more a result of Hurley’s cheerful team building than Jack’s epiphany and rise to leadership.
Libby was not only Hurley’s lover, but more importantly, she was antagonist to Dave, Hurley’s imaginary friend. While Dave was busy trying to get Hurley to stuff food in his mouth or throw himself off a cliff, Libby urged Hurley to liberate himself from addictions, and especially his addiction to food. She never told him what to do or how to do it, but she became the most positive force in his life.
Libby and Hurley had both been treated at the Santa Rose Mental Health Institute. They became exemplars of the topsy-turvy nature of the LOST world. We accept the notion that “crazy people” are those poor souls who are incapable of living normal, healthy lives. Yet these two former crazy people carried on a romance that was marked by greater sanity than any other relationship on the Island. While Sun and Jin were cheating on each other and Kate was trying to arrange her schedule so she could sleep with Jack one night and Sawyer the next, Libby and Hurley were just two young people in love. More than that, they appreciated each other, helped each other, and gained strength from each other.
Taken together, Libby and Hurley made an important statement about mental health. The socially accepted definition of sanity, they argued, has to change. Our attitudes about sanity and insanity need adjustment. I am among those who feel Libby and Hurley had it right. Our common need to amend the definition of sanity is something that goes far beyond the borders of a television series.
A Devout Meditation
Adolf Eichmann, Nazi criminal, at his trial in Jerusalem, 1961
Thomas Merton, The mid-twentieth century spiritual writer, revealed to us the insidious danger of widely-held attitudes toward sanity in his short essay “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.” Eichmann was one of the leading organisers of Hitler’s “final solution”—the genocidal extermination of the Jewish race throughout the world. Psychologists examined Eichmann and found him sane, making him eligible to stand trial for his crimes. This is what Merton had to say about the determination of Eichmann’s sanity:
“One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing.
“If all the Nazis had been psychotics, as some of their leaders probably were, their appalling cruelty would have been in some sense easier to understand. It is much worse to consider this calm, "well-balanced," unperturbed official conscientiously going about his desk work, his administrative job which happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order....
“The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.”
Throughout the six-year run of LOST we saw countless instances of “sane” people pointing guns at each other, even when there was no apparent reason to be pointing a gun. Jack’s extreme state after having survived the opening of the hatch was illustrated perfectly during the scene in which he chased the fleeing Desmond through the jungle, finally stopping him at the point of his pistol. Desmond was no longer a threat to anyone, he merely wished to leave. Somehow the “sanity” of the moment had convinced Jack of the appropriateness of threatening to shoot an innocent, unarmed man who was fleeing a situation that frightened him.
I make no argument here regarding the merits or practicality of the application of deadly force. Certainly there were other instances of “sanity” that we ought to find objectionable and cause for re-evaluation. One such instance was the Season Three move by the Others to kidnap all the female 815 survivors of childbearing age. Hurley, never constrained to accept other people’s definition of sanity, decided this demonstration of coordinated sanity could not stand. He fired up the rusting Dharma van and mowed down the men who had come to abduct his friends.
The Road to Shambala
If “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead” is not among your top ten LOST episodes I recommend you re-evaluate your ranking. This gem from the mid-point of LOST not only stands as the turning point in the show’s mythology, but it contains the most delightful scene in the entire series.
Until this episode, Hurley was convinced the numbers were cursed, he was cursed, and he could never be anything more than a source of bad luck to anyone interacting with him. A three-minute ride in a twenty-year-old Dharma van turned Hurley’s life around and gave every viewer-participant around the world reason to express hope for the survivors of Flight 815.
“You make your own luck” became Hurley’s new watch words after this amazing ride. The attitude seems contrary to the relentless, destiny-driven atmosphere of LOST. When Hurley popped the clutch and the engine turned over we became witness not only to Hurley’s makeover, but to a completely new page in the book of LOST mythology, breaking philosophical ground that had not yet been opened to our curious explorations.
Particularly in the case of the numbers and Hurley, the idea of free will seemed long buried, the decision having been reached almost with the pilot episode that free will was an illusion. Later episodes hammered away at the idea of inevitable destiny. “Dead is Dead,” “What’s Done Is Done,” and other pronouncements were delivered episode after episode, cementing in our minds the idea that some indomitable force of nature was driving the survivors toward an event of monumental importance that could not be delayed or rerouted or denied.
Hurley’s van ride was the spectacular precursor to Faraday’s Boulder of Season Five and Jack’s acceptance of the yoke of Protectorship at the end of Season Six. Faraday’s Boulder—the idea that a big enough splash in the currents of time could actually change history—was conditional on the idea that human beings are the variables in the flow of spacetime. “What’s Done Is Done” is not an absolute, Faraday said, because human beings could change their behaviours. Sawyer groaned that Faraday’s plan hadn’t worked, since it did not bring Juliet back to life and they were still stuck on the Island. In a certain sense, Sawyer was correct. The placement of the nuclear device atop the electromagnetic leak had not created a new stream in time as Faraday predicted. But it did work in the way circumstances required, catapulting all of them thirty years back to the future so that Jack and Kate could kill the Smoke Monster.
The tragedy of Juliet’s death might have been avoided, had anyone been listening to Hurley. The survivors didn’t need a Ph.D. in theoretical physics to tell them human beings have free will. “You make your own luck, dude,” Hurley would have told them. They could have slain the Smoke Monster two years earlier—and all of them could have taken a Dharma van on the road to Shambala.
The Essential Hurley and the Valenzetti Equation
An illustration from Chapter Three of “LOST Humanity” by Pearson Moore
I have not delved into the most important aspects of Hurley’s character in this short essay. Hurley and the numbers are so important, so central to the thesis of LOST, that they cannot be adequately covered in such a short article, nor even in a relatively long article. In fact, the bulk of a ninety-thousand word book was required to fully address the crucial importance of the numbers. I am right now in the midst of preparing the book for publication.
If we wish to move beyond LOST as adventure story, we need to understand Hurley’s idea of free will. We need to make sense of Jack and Locke’s struggle over science and faith. Most of all, we need to see how the numbers fit into the grand scheme. These ideas are not disconnected elements of a poorly planned mythology. They are fully integrated into the grand story. More importantly, the great ideas of LOST are integrated into the characters, in ways that no other television series I am aware of has been able to achieve.
I spent last summer and my two-month break from essays firming up a new approach to LOST. Over the summer I discovered insights into mythology and characters that reconciled so many disparate and apparently unrelated themes I was surprised no one had stumbled upon the idea. The possibility of such a new discovery seems slim, but hiding ideas in plain sight of everyone is not new to LOST. I am aware of not a single LOST commentator who guessed the sideways world was a depiction of the afterlife or heaven or purgatory. But the evidence was before us for many months, every week , awaiting our understanding.
I will provide a detailed discussion of the Valenzetti Equation, and Hurley will also receive his due, but you will have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime, I recommend a short ride down a steep hill, Hurley at the steering wheel, and Three Dog Night blasting on the 8-Track.
St. Valentine’s Day, 2011
Posted by DarkUFO at 2/14/2011 07:57:00 am 27 CommentsHurley , Pearson Moore