So. Color me supremely relieved. Sort of. Because the fact of the matter is that the ending of Greatest Hits was utterly ambiguous, with massive potential for both Desmond and Charlie - but especially Charlie, though Desmond could wind up drifting out to the middle of the ocean, could he not? - to say goodbye to this cruel world. And yet they didn't. Not yet. They put me through the emotional ringer, that's for sure, but not a single person died in this episode. Next week... Well, that's another matter, isn't it?
I was so excited that Naomi answered the question of whether Drive Shaft's popularity exploded with Charlie's apparent demise. That was a great exchange she had with Charlie, and the first time she's seemed like just a regular person rather than a wounded stranger brimming with mystery. She's back on her feet, and she was able to deliver to Charlie the news that he was loved back home after all. To some extent, I suppose Liam could be seen as opportunistic, using Charlie's death to advance himself, but I'd like to think that the new album - hopefully with Funny Now on it - is just as much an act of love and remorse. He must feel badly that his last encounter with Charlie, so soon before the doomed flight, involved him refusing to make a sacrifice for the little brother who had spent his life looking out for him. Reviving Drive Shaft in his memory could be a way of assuaging his guilt.
I guess when it comes down to it I do like Liam, but his self-absorption makes me so angry... He came off pretty well in the flashbacks this week, though. Well, not so much the swimming one, but he was Charlie's rock when the illustrious Mr. Pace was about to give up on his music career. That was such a euphoric scene, highly reminiscent of That Thing You Do! At first I was confused, thinking they were washed up at this point and being surprised that hearing their song on the radio gave them such a boost. But it was the first time on the radio, a truly magical moment, the sheer joy of it magnified by the enormity of the downpour. Classic.
Then Liam gave Charlie the ring, which I always thought was made specifically for Drive Shaft. Turns out it was the other way around, that the band was named to align itself with this family heirloom bearing the initials of Dexter Stratton. It's ironic that everything Liam said would happen to Charlie happened instead to him; he would've been better off keeping the ring after all. But it was such a beautiful moment, despite the rather crude surroundings, boozing it up on Christmas with a couple of strange floozies. Incidentally, as best as I can recall, no other character has had a flashback that takes place on Christmas, but Charlie has now had two. It seems to me this may be significant.
The structure of this episode was unique, since the flashbacks were not one story presented in chronological order but rather five separate events listed in order of increasing intensity. Three were very much wrapped up in his family. Though we didn't see his mother, her presence hung heavy in the Christmas flashback. I wonder whether she died before Charlie hit adulthood. She obviously is very important to him. In the swimming flashback, I really thought Mr. Pace was going to play some sort of cruel prank on Charlie; our only prior introduction to him was certainly not a favorable one, and LOST is obsessed with inadequate fathers. But Charlie's dad stepped up, and I think it was the feeling that his dad really did care about him that made this moment so special, more than the swimming. We never really see Charlie in the water; if he's such a champion swimmer, why doesn't he ever jump into the ocean just for the fun of it like some of the other folks do? And why wouldn't he be able to save Claire from drowning, a much easier task than the one he is set in this episode? I think Charlie was lying about the swim team, just trying to be nonchalant and make himself seem more suitable to Jack. He wasn't even in the water a minute and he was panicking. Still, it's interesting that Charlie selects this memory for his list before he learns about his deadly mission. It gives the whole thing an Owen Meany sort of sense of destiny.
Really, all the flashbacks fit very well with what is happening, and as soon as Charlie writes down the memory, something on the island complements it. He recalls first hearing his song on the radio; Naomi tells him about the big fuss the world made over his death. He remembers his first swimming lesson; he finds out that he has to swim in order to set a rescue into motion. After the Christmas flashback, he gives Aaron the ring, though I wish he would have made more certain that the ring would not be left behind. He could have said to Claire, "Here, I don't want to risk this falling off while I'm swimming; could you hold it for me a while?" Heck, he could've just asked Desmond to give her the ring along with the list. But now the fate of this precious family heirloom is unknown. I really hope it somehow makes its way to Claire and Aaron, or back to Charlie. It would be such a shame if it didn't.
Anyway, the fourth flashback was really powerful. At first, I thought it might have taken place just after Desmond's meeting with Charlie after his disastrous interview, but it was a different day, a different rainstorm breaking up a performance of Wonderwall. I'm guessing it was later but it must have been before John's father faked his death. Charlie's rescue of Nadia shows that he really does have what it takes to be a hero. He wants to live, but he's prepared to lay down his life for the good of the many. Of course, there's always a chance that he will survive, right? Desmond said he had to die, but maybe he could cheat fate himself, without Desmond's interference.
I figured the last flashback would have to involve him and Claire. I assume the scene was shot recently, but maybe they actually filmed it way back at the beginning. Either way, it's a very nice scene, and Charlie is so sweet and funny in it, and it just cements the fact that Claire is the driving force behind his determination to conquer his fear and die a hero. He promises Claire early in the episode that he will protect both her and Aaron; that's a vow he doesn't want to back away from. I love his little farewell to Aaron, with those tiny hands reaching up to touch him as he declares his love for the baby whose birth he witnessed. And then that tender kiss with Claire; Mom and Dad thought they'd never kissed before, but they did at least once, in the season two finale. But it's all so tentative and gentle, so unlike Sawyer and Kate's roughhousing. His relationship with Claire has turned out to be the most profound of Charlie's life, and it's about a deep, almost spiritual connection, not physical gratification.
I couldn't help but think of Merry and Pippin's dramatic removal from one another in Return of the King as I watched this episode. That was one of the most intensely emotional scenes in the whole trilogy. We get three different versions of the grand farewell here, four if you count Aaron, though I'd tend to lump that together with Claire. The moment with Hurley was maybe the closest to resembling that actual scene, as Hurley came lumbering up and offered to go along and Charlie refused, knowing he had to go on with Desmond alone. I do think that Hurley was too big to fit onto that outrigger, but more than that, he couldn't have come along, because he wouldn't have let Charlie embark on a suicide mission. He needed to not know how steep Charlie's risk was - though I think he had a hunch. He didn't want to just let the man who was probably his best friend on the island go without offering to help, and certainly not without saying goodbye. Actually, this scene was more like Sam splashing after Frodo at the end of Fellowship, but in this case, Hurley didn't come along. Charlie shut him down. But I'm so glad that he called after him, that he went back and gave him a bear hug and told him he loved him. Hurley seemed slightly uncomfortable with the emotion of the moment; had he realized just how dangerous Charlie's mission was, perhaps he would have clung more tightly. But I like the fact that he's the one who sticks with Claire when they all head out to the radio transmitter. It's the least he can do for his friend. (I was also glad to see him tugging Vincent along; I'd hate for him to get left behind again!)
It was the long goodbye with Desmond that really got to me, though. Yes, Desmond arrived somewhat late in the game, especially in relation to Charlie. We met him in the first episode of the second season, but Charlie didn't meet him until the last. This season, though, ever since Flashes Before Your Eyes, the two have been practically inseparable, bound together by this terrible secret. Desmond was so solemn and so gentle throughout the whole of this episode... It would be heartbreaking to be in his position, to finally come to the grim realization that he can't save this man he's been trying so valiantly to protect. Of course, there's always a choice, and one might argue that it wouldn't be so bad if our friends didn't get rescued by Naomi's ship. But they're in the middle of a war now, so sticking around is likely to be difficult. A lot of people could get killed. So Desmond feels it's his duty to tell Charlie what he's foreseen, though he resists, because it's a truly painful message to deliver. Throughout the episode, we get a lot of him glancing sadly at Charlie, muttering softly, trying to bring him whatever small degree of comfort he can. He seems so different from the drunken, despondent, deranged Scot who made his dramatic comeback a year ago.
And yet so much the same, because in the end, Desmond stepped up to the challenge. It was a vastly different scene in this episode, so calm and serene, worlds away from the chaos unleashed by John's fatal error. But in Live Together, Die Alone, Desmond overcame his fear of the unknown to turn the failsafe key and save everyone on the island. In Greatest Hits, after all his quiet agonies leading up to the fateful moment, Desmond offered to take Charlie's place on his task. I was glad he made the offer; I was waiting for him to, and when he finally did it was such a heroic gesture. But as much as I yearn for Charlie to survive, I didn't want him to accept and was a little disappointed when it seemed like he was going to. This was Charlie's moment, and I didn't want him to back out at the last minute. He didn't, so in the end, both Charlie and Desmond were willing to make the supreme sacrifice for each other.
I find Desmond's habit of calling everyone "brother" especially appropriate in relation to Charlie. Since he first revealed to Charlie the fact that the universe was out to get him, Desmond has been his protector, a quiet, steady force in Charlie's life keeping him from harm. He has been the kind of big brother Liam should have been but rarely was. Their lives have become so entwined that Desmond can't bear to leave Charlie's side at this final stretch. He's always hovering nearby, forehead crinkled into thoughtful lines, voice muted, mouth grave with just a hint of a warm but grim "I'm proud of you" smile. As Desmond prepares to adopt Charlie's mission after arguing good-naturedly about why he should be the one to go, he hands back the list and gives Charlie the same cheeky head-jiggling smile he gave his monkish mentor while he slurred, "It's a good thing we've taken a vow of poverty!" It's a "well, isn't this a fine mess" kind of grin. When Charlie knocks him out, there's something very religious about the image of Desmond lying in that boat, arms folded, with that list so carefully tucked away. It's a scene of serene and sacred beauty, like Boromir's body floating away down the Anduin in that little boat. Desmond is not dead, however; instead, Charlie is leaving him with the permission - and the obligation - to live.
Nathan thinks that Desmond lied to Charlie about the exact contents of his vision. I guess I wouldn't rule out that possibility, though I'm not sure to what end he would conceal or change details, and the slow, mumbled manner of his delivery seemed to convey hesitation but not dishonesty. It seems if he was lying, the key detail would have been Claire and Aaron getting on the helicopter. Maybe he saw himself getting into one and made up the other bit in order to convince Charlie to act - but that doesn't seem like something Desmond would do. I don't think he would ask Charlie to die for his sake alone. I think he truly felt it was something that needed to happen for the sake of everyone, and because this was the end of the line, he wanted Charlie to have the opportunity to know everything that he knew. He felt he owed him that much.
Everything - everything in this episode was setting us up to think that it would end with Charlie's demise, with the chance that Desmond would substitute himself at the last minute. But the fact that it was a Charlie flashback, and that he was recalling the five best moments of his life, and that he had dramatic partings with his closest remaining comrades on the beach... And the quietude of those last scenes with Desmond out on the water, especially the way his voice cracked (so reminiscently of Merry's "I don't know what's going to happen") when he told Desmond about his list, and then underneath the water, with the sad music and the feeling of time standing still... It was incredibly moving, with more than half of the episode, but especially the last ten minutes or so, feeling like an elegy for Charlie. When we came back from the last commercial break, I locked elbows with Nathan and willed myself to cry, while he sobbed soundlessly next to me. I never did manage to get my tear ducts to cooperate, but I guess I didn't exactly have to. I may need to mourn Charlie next week - if, for instance, Mom's hypothesis that he'll be stuck in the Looking Glass for the next season or so proves incorrect - and if that occurs then I really hope I can manage to do the thing properly. But for now, I'm just so glad that there is a glimmer or hope...
Speaking of good news, I clapped quite enthusiastically when Rose and Bernard showed up. No explanation for where they've been - apparently right there the whole time, but for some reason they didn't merit an appearance for 20 episodes. I was a little disappointed that Rose didn't have any interaction with Charlie, but I guess she was too busy worrying about ol' sharp-shooter Bernard to chat with Charlie, who was practically fused to either Desmond or Claire for the whole episode anyway. I was relieved to see that Rose seemed to be in perfect health, evidently not adversely affected by the hatch implosion. What is she going to do, though, if everyone gets rescued? I don't suppose it's that big of an issue right now since there's no way they can get off the island with three seasons to go. Well, I suppose a few of them could, but if anyone stays, Rose certainly will. The fact that they were neglected for an entire season only to reappear in the next-to-last episode of the season worries me. It seems to indicate they will be a part of something dramatic. Well, Bernard is, obviously, but I have an uneasy feeling that they brought him back just to kill him off. I certainly hope that isn't the case.
I couldn't tell for sure whether Sayid pointed to Sun or Jin when he indicated the third shooter. I figured it was Jin, but then I thought that it could be Sun, since we all know she can handle a gun pretty well. But I can't imagine they'd let her do that, especially since it's her more than anyone else who the Others want. In any case, way to split up the only two married couples on the island...
Sayid and Jack butted heads a lot here. Sayid has always been very proactive in getting things done on the island, and doing them his way. The timing of the Others' attack is terrible, forcing them to radio for help while they are worrying about whether their plan will work. It's because of Sayid that Charlie has his mission. Is it really worth giving up his life just for a chance that their signal might be heard? I do think Sayid is right to change places with Jack at the last minute. Sayid is the one with the military experience; Jack is the one the group as a whole is used to following. Jack has shown repeatedly that he is uncomfortable inflicting harm on others. Moreover, he spent a week with these people, so he may well have formed a few attachments aside from Juliet. If someone he considered his friend was among the attackers, could he proceed?
Of course, I don't entirely want the plan to succeed. Jack's finally decided to toss the Hippocratic Oath out the window, but I do not believe that every person coming to that beach deserves to get blasted into little bits. (I also don't think it was a good idea to have Danielle do her little demonstration with the dynamite. Wouldn't he think someone might hear that? And isn't that kind of a waste of explosives?) I sincerely hope Tom stays behind from the raid, though chances are he's one of the ten most able-bodied men. You'd think that as a hemophobic he would not want to be involved in a situation that could turn violent, but he probably feels he has little choice. Then again, if Tom does go along, he could possibly try to change his fellow raiders' minds. Or not, since they're not really planning to kill anyone. I didn't see Tom at all in this episode, so I'm not too sure what he's up to, but based on last week, he seems to be questioning Ben's judgment.
Richard certainly is. He seemed quite alarmed when Ben came back. He's startled, for one, that John did not return; I think Richard really is on his side because he is convinced that John is "special", and either he or Alex may well have a hand in getting him out of that ditch in the next episode, which has to happen. Richard still creeps me out a little, but he's growing on me. He's a very soft-spoken fellow; you pretty much never hear him raise his voice. Everything is this calm, murmured tone. I don't know what his deal is, and I know he had a major hand in the Purge, but I'm growing fond of Richard.
Ben pretty much went ballistic in this episode. He's not thinking rationally anymore, and he's losing control over his people. Ryan, that rarely-before-seen Other who seems comparable to Sayid, appears to be loyal to Ben, but most of the people at the camp appear to have lost faith in Ben's leadership abilities, and I don't think very many of them actually believed that Jacob had authorized this change of plans.
It's nice to see Alex continuing to take an active role in helping the castaways, though it's sad to see her conspiring against her dad. Of course, he's not really her dad. Or is he? Anyway, I was glad to see her and especially tickled to see Karl, who has been out of the picture for quite a while now. I was wondering where he'd gone off to. I think we're going to see more of him. I love how he greeted Alex with, "I thought you were bringing me a rabbit!" Sheesh. Whiner. That rabbit was really gross, by the way. I hope it wasn't one of Ben's pets... But Karl's arrival on the beach was so dramatic: "THEY'RE COMING RIGHT NOW!!!" Okay then. That was pretty alarming. Good for Karl for saving the day, though.
I'm very glad that Sawyer jumped in to stop Sayid from hurting Karl. I don't know for sure that he would have actually done anything other than knock him over just then, but I love the mentorly relationship Sawyer seems to have established with Karl. He really does care about the kid. If Sawyer's Han, I guess that makes Karl Luke, in which case he's bound to get a lot more integral to the show... I really need to knock it off with trying to make this Star Wars. (Wait! Maybe Ben is really Karl's father, not Alex's! I'm done now.) The rest of the beach folks aren't quite as quick to trust him; I love how when he pulls out his gun to offer it to Sayid Hurley just about topples over in panic, and Sayid accepts it as though it were something extremely unsavory...
While I was watching this episode, I was thinking that it was going by incredibly quickly. Ironic, then, that this is the longest LOST recap I've ever posted. It was just a gorgeous episode from start to finish. Bad things will happen in Through the Looking Glass. Carlton and Damon have promised a bloodbath. I want them to be liars. Everyone on the show lies, some of them incessantly; why should the writers be any different? In any case, though, now that we know what the looking glass is, it completely changes the context for the last episode. I suspect that Charlie will survive, and some amazing thing will happen inside that hatch. Of course, I think the original notion is true too, that we'll get some massive revelation (not "reveal", dagnabbit!) with Jack and the gang about what this particular Wonderland is and whether there is a way to get back to the real world. We've seen three different (or were they?) white rabbits on the show this season. Maybe that was a clue.
I'll echo Merry and say that I don't know what's going to happen. But I'm not too despondent about it. This last episode for eight months will be cataclysmic, but if it's anywhere near as good as the first and second season cliff-hangers, it will give us enough to think about to last us through the long wait. Bring on the finale!