Thursday, April 19, 2007

It's No Laughing Matter When Charlie Plays Isaac to Desmond's Abraham

Erin can breathe again. Goodness, it was getting harrowing waiting for last night, and my heart was hammering in my chest practically every minute of the episode. When it comes to compelling, Dez flashbacks beat out even Locke. And I seriously was worried about him. Seems he's in a pretty precarious position. Since Charlie can't die yet - I really wish they hadn't let slip that he had a flashback coming up, though it would be pretty cruddy of them to kill him off without him even having a flashback in season three - all the more reason for them to whack Dez, because with him out of the way, Charlie's that much more vulnerable, set up for certain doom in the next-to-last episode. Ugh.

Catch-22 is such an ominous name for an episode, and so appropriate for Desmond's situation, which really does seem rather hopeless, especially when it seems like he has to choose between Charlie and Penny. I got all excited when they showed the book that had fallen from the parachuted figure, which was obviously Catch-22 in another language. Spooky... Desmond already said, "No matter what I try to do, you're gonna die, Charlie." He really does feel it's inevitable, yet he keeps resisting it. But can he do that when saving Charlie, only to have him face mortal peril yet again within days, could prevent him from saving the love of his life?
The opening sequence to this episode was horrible - and would have been much more dreadful if it seemed like there was a reasonable chance Charlie could actually die. Mom screamed bloody murder when he took an arrow to the throat, but I just flinched and said, "Oh, it's one of Desmond's psychic flashes." I wish I'd been able to believe that it really was curtains for Charlie, if only for a moment; I hate to think I'm being denied any emotional wringing. Still, that was a most unpleasant shot, and I really didn't need to see it half a dozen times. Not only is it utterly grotesque, but it's condescending. Okay, we get it. Desmond remembers seeing Charlie get shot in the throat. Kinda hard to forget. We don't need to see the flash every time he does. Another trait of Desmond episodes: superfluous flashbacks. Once is generally enough; if it's really important, and it's been a while, or we're seeing it from a different perspective, I can accept seeing it twice, but five or six times? Enough already!
That said, Catch-22 was brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, yet it was also an incredibly funny episode. That first scene is a perfect encapsulation. There's the initial intimidating shot of Dez slashing aside that bit of brush, and then it's Charlie and Hurley tromping around, arguing over whether Superman is cooler than the Flash, while Jin hangs back not knowing what they're yammering on about. (I'm with Charlie; Supes all the way, man!) And Charlie's guitar getting soaked, I might add; I wondered while I was watching what he was doing in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of a downpour, with his guitar on his back. Doesn't seem like very good stewardship of his instrument. Anyway, it's quite a merry little party, and then... Trip wire! So that's bad, but you're thinking, "Well, Hurley managed to get out of it unscathed; Charlie will too." Except he didn't. It was awful. Seriously awful.
Cheers, then, for a seriously intense opener. As worried as I was about Desmond, though, and as convinced as I was that Charlie was safe - and would be for the next few episodes, I kept shaking my head at Desmond. "You can't kill him, Dez!" I railed. "You just can't!" Because he's trying to recreate the scene exactly, which means letting Charlie take the arrow, all because he thinks Penny is coming for him and that they'll only be reunited if everything happens the way he saw it. (I love how his explanation to Hurley about how his flashes work, like pieces of a puzzle but there's no picture on the front of the box to go by, is a perfect description of the Mystery of the Island puzzles...) There was something very creepy about his telling Hurley that he didn't want to change what happened, that he wanted it more than anything in the world. The fact is, he's deeply conflicted. Every step of the way, he can barely go through with what he's doing, so he has to crank his urgency up a notch so the rest won't see through to his fear, remorse and hesitation.
You know, when I saw "Moriah", the first thing I thought was Lord of the Rings. Not quite what they had in mind... I never did like the story of Abraham and Isaac all that much. What a terrible thing to ask a man to do... Isaac was spared, of course, but... Well, if someone did that today, he'd be seen as a psychopath rather than a faithful servant. Is it enough to trust that God will intervene at the last moment? Perhaps it should be, but that makes me a coward too because I can't imagine myself killing a member of my family even at God's command. I guess the big question here is whether Desmond is a hero for saving Charlie yet again or a faithless failure because he keeps trying to cheat fate. If he hadn't stepped in, would the vision have changed anyway? Would God have spared Charlie as a reward for Desmond's faith?
But Desmond's near lack of action doesn't seem to be about obedience; it's about his desperation to be with Penny again. It's about Charlie being a sacrifice so Desmond can get what he wants. That doesn't seem all that admirable to me. And anyway, part of the point of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was to show that He wasn't interested in that. I almost feel like the show is trying to say that Desmond should be letting Charlie die, but that just doesn't gel with me. Well, maybe that's just Desmond, feeling like a loser as usual, convinced whatever he's doing is the wrong thing, and it has nothing to do with God's will. And really, saving Charlie this time around didn't turn out so badly, did it? My head hurts. Why must you always do this to me, Dez? You have no compassion for my poor nerves!
(P.S. (4-22) After mulling it over for half a week, I think perhaps Charlie isn't Isaac after all. As much as Desmond cares about him and doesn't want to see him get hurt, Penny is the love of his life, so risking her life would be the true sacrifice, which he makes when he decides - at the last minute, by all appearance - to save Charlie's neck again anyway. He's not particularly at peace with that decision, but he makes it, and I'd like to think that is indicative of moral fiber rather than failing. I prefer the idea that Penny is Isaac because Desmond's duty seems a lot less bloodthirsty - to save rather than to allow to die - and because it means that in the end, Desmond has done the right thing.)
Anyway, I've always imagined Dez to be rather religious, what with the "brother" stuff, the "lift it up" comment to Jack following a conversation heavy with religious implications, his crossing himself, his incredulous reaction when he learned he and Locke were barricading themselves from a priest, the prayerful vibe I get from him when he's not busy getting sloshed, the whole destiny / saving people thing. When the flashback started, I heard the bells and thought "church" but then immediately switched to "prison", only to realize that it was, in a sense, both. This tenure at the monastery is presumably where he picked up the habit of calling everyone "brother". He was both hiding and pursuing, seeking penance for the act that led him there while trying to find a higher purpose for his life. Ironically, finding out he'd been a monk only led me to see Dez in a less mystical light, because he's such a crummy monk. Oh, sure, he can do the quiet thing, and we see that he's reasonably well-versed in the Bible, or at least a certain part of it. But for as much as he came off as this wise advisor in that scene with Jack in Man of Science, Man of Faith, everything since has shown him to be hopelessly confused.
I think the Ruth subplot slightly detracts from his epic love story with Penny. He dated Ruth three times as long as Penny, and then he just abandoned her. Nice of him to go back and attempt to explain himself, but the two of them must have been awfully fond of each other to sustain that kind of relationship. What makes Penny so much better? I know, I know... Fate was leading him to her. They were meant to be together. And then they were meant to be apart, because he needed motivation to enter that race and crash that boat and eventually turn the failsafe key. That was Desmond's grand purpose. So what now, since that's been accomplished? When I was watching this last night, I noticed the picture on the monk's desk but didn't catch who was in it. I thought it might be Penny; I figured it probably was somehow significant. Reading MSN's blog this morning before I re-watched the episode and confirmed it for myself, I saw they'd noticed it too, only they managed to see who was in the picture. Mrs. Hawking. Oh goodie. Who are these two? How are they able to jerk Dez around like a marionette? Are they pre-cogs like him? As much as they come across like warm, gentle mentors (and I love how much the firing scene reminded me of Maria's send-off by the Mother Superior in The Sound of Music), there's also something creepy and possibly sinister about them, especially Mrs. Hawking. Evidently she and the monk are working together. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of them.
While I wasn't so crazy about the constant repetition of the opening scene, I did like all the little references to past Desmond moments. With Jack, talking about how he twisted his ankle and how he's bandaged his share of them in his day, taking us back to that fateful meeting in the bleachers. With the monk, saying, "Sorry about the wine," recalling his "Sorry about the Scotch" to Sawyer. And the monk saying that he was so busy running away he didn't know what he was running to, which Desmond probably had in mind when he told Penny, who asked what he was running from, that "I have to get my honor back, and that's what I'm running to." And there was the picture, of course. Can't get away from that picture...
Poor, poor Dez. We got to see his crazy / tormented face, albeit not quite as intense as it was when he killed Kelvin and when Locke smashed the computer, several times: when there's the splash in the ocean, when they think they've found Penny, when he gets sacked by the monk... Nobody does tortured quite like Henry Ian Cusick. It was heartbreaking to see him wailing, "I'm sorry, Penny!" yet again; that whole sequence was very trying. The way they intercut it with their first meeting, their use of "the sad music," which Libbie pointed out in alarm, the slow motion... It all seemed to be leading up to the fact that in saving Charlie, this time, he had killed Penny. That somehow she'd have been okay if Charlie had died, though I can't really see how. The crash had already happened, so it was just a matter of getting there faster, and they arrived pretty quickly as it was. At any rate, first you think Charlie's dead, then you think maybe Dez will die trying to save him while still saving Penny, then you think maybe Jin or Hurley will get pierced with the arrow that should have gotten Charlie, and then finally you think after all her trouble, Penny's a goner, which is a miserably depressing way to end that story arc, and where is Desmond supposed to go from there? But it's not Penny, though it is someone apparently sent by Penny. And it's not absolutely certain at the end of the episode that she's dead. What is certain is that she knows who Desmond is. Intense.
This was a tough episode for me because I couldn't decide which course of action for Desmond would be more upsetting to me. Seemed like there would be deadly consequences no matter what he tried to do, so I kept feeling frustrated with him, feeling like he was doing the wrong thing, but really I was mad at the Universe for putting him in such a quandry. He's trying so hard to choose the right course; it's not fair to put so much on one guy's shoulders. On a lighter note, turns out Charles Dickens isn't Desmond's only obsession. There's also the Celtics. Seeing them win that championship was "the closest thing to a religious experience" he had in his provincial life with Ruth. (Any significance to her name? When I think of Ruth, I think of loyalty, being willing to follow the one you care about anywhere. Desmond displayed rather the opposite of loyalty when he bailed on her...) Also, that's their fight song he's singing drunkenly when he gets kicked out of the monastery. (Call me terrible, but Dez is such a hoot when he's drunk. He's so darn cheeky... And he smiles a lot. It's always nice to see those dazzling teeth, since a sober Dez is generally very sober indeed.)
Okay, Dez was not the only character in this episode, so perhaps I ought to shift gears for just a moment. (And yes, I'm going to keep spelling his shortened name with a "z", just because I'm stubborn like that. He's "Des" for Pen; he's "Dez" for me.) To Charlie, yes? He spends half the episode being very suspicious of Desmond's motives - and that glare he gives him after Desmond says that he was supposed to let him die is bone-chilling. But he's terribly sweet when it comes to the whole Penny thing. He wants Desmond to be happy, so he lends a very sympathetic ear when he realizes his three-time rescuer is a love-sick puppy. We get to hear him play his guitar a bit. We see him all light-hearted as he's talking superheroes with Hurley. It's appropriate that Superman would be his favorite, given the fact that he has his own personal Superman plucking him out of danger's way all the time, though I hadn't really figured him for someone who would get that into superheroes. Too busy with his music to sit around reading comics. Ah, well. I don't read comics either, and I think Superman is amazing. Anyway, great balance of comedy and nail-biting drama with Charlie.
Hurley, too. He's been weirded out by Desmond since he found him wandering around in the jungle naked, especially when he unknowingly predicted Locke's speech, and that was only the beginning. He was so awkward around Jack: "I'm just hanging out with Dez... because... we're friends." Way not to sound like you're covering something up. But he recovered his golden tongue for the conversation with Jin, which was awesome. I love how seriously Jin appeared to mull over the notion in his mind before giving a very definitive-sounding "Yes." I think he was flattered to be included on what seemed an exercise in male bonding, an impression amplified by that great shot of the four of them walking along the beach whistling the Bridge Over the River Kwai song. One of the best parts of the whole episode was Jin telling that scary story with the flashlight (though I thought all the batteries were long dead by now?) and Hurley nearly jumping out of his skin even though he had no clue what he was saying. Funny how the second Dez episode of the season once again involves Hurley, Charlie and a campfire... Anyway, Hurley and Jin had some nice moments in this one. I also liked, "Dude, even if I spoke Korean, it wouldn't make any sense." Hurley's fairly light-hearted throughout the ordeal, but he senses something is up from the beginning. There's something slightly worried about him in most of his scenes.
What fell out into the water? Not a person, presumably? It's nice that Hurley right away piped up saying they had to help, though that notion didn't go anywhere, I guess partly because they decided there wasn't a person out there in the ocean after all. Helicopters are so spooky. Where did it come from? I wouldn't think it would have enough fuel for such a long trip. That certainly was an ominous scene, with the blinking lights and the four of them standing there staring and no one watching daring to breathe... Very well done. Incidentally, poor Hurley, having Dez jumping around on his shoulders so he could get up that tree. That couldn't have been too comfortable.
Back on the beach, Sun, Claire, Sayid and Vincent are AWOL, and we have no idea what's up with John. But... Sawyer mentions Bernard! Yay!! And Bernard evidently likes Phil Collins. Fascinating. Anyway, this bodes well for Bernard and Rose showing up in the next episode. They've got an in now. I loved Sawyer's little ping pong match, though I'm not clear on whether he initiated it just for the fun of it or hoping to extract some insight about Jack and Kate. Seems like it might have been just an innocent diversion, because he appeared pretty unsettled when he realized that Kate's mind had been somewhere else the night before, though I think he had a hunch at the time. Looked to me like he almost considered refusing her but then sort of shrugged as if to say that he'll take what he can get. Ugh. It was so Cameron and Chase on House... I guess she never was really that gung-ho for Sawyer anyway; it was always Jack she was after, but he never gave her enough of the time of day, and now she's burning with jealousy that Jack's with Juliet. Sawyer's so attentive... She can take him down a peg or two, but I don't want her breaking his heart. It's not right. Anyway, I didn't really need to see all the Sawyer-Kate late-night shenanigans, but I liked Sawyer better than Kate in this episode. And I loved his comment about how the island would explode if they didn't play ping pong every 108 minutes.
Jack and Juliet seem awfully chummy. And he still seems to be mostly giving Kate the cold shoulder. He's talking to her, but he seems rather annoyed by her presence, and definitely by her attempts to flirt with him. (That licking the spoon thing? Ugh. What was she thinking?) I think it's very weird for both Jack and Kate not to have any kind of crisis to solve. Things are very peaceful right at the moment. But Jack's right, they won't stay that way long, so no worries there. They'll both be able to do something heroic soon enough.
So... I guess that's it. I feel like there's more, but I've been rambling on for a couple of hours now, and I think I'd better wrap it up. Next week we find out more about the island's baby problem and how it will affect Sun. Should be interesting, but I can't possibly be more engaged than I was this week. Damon and friends, I kiss your feet in gratitude. Don't ever scare me like that again.

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