Thursday, May 17, 2007

"They know, Karl. But thanks.": Lost

Since mid-season one, Charlie has been the cool character to hate on Lost. He's whiny and insufferable, and only his very first flashback had any new information to impart to us. Similarly, the writers didn't quite seem to know what to do with him, having him drop out for large portions of season two before he briefly became a heroin addict again, then turned evil to get back at Locke, who was making time with his main squeeze, Claire (and, just typing that now, I realize JUST HOW LITTLE anyone knew what to do with Charlie). Basically, Charlie's last truly relevant moment in the show was when he almost died when Ethan strung him up from a tree (and Jack got to do that thing that works on TV where you raise your fist way above your head, then bring it down on someone's chest, finally restarting their heart).

It was really too bad that no one could quite figure out what to do with Charlie, as Dominic Monaghan is a pretty engaging actor (as his work in Lord of the Rings would testify). In particular, Monaghan does comedy well. Some of his scenes with Jorge Garcia's Hurley have been solidly funny, and the two's work in Tricia Tanaka Is Dead, officially the episode that causes the greatest split in Lost fandom, is warmly amusing, making you feel not only as though these two are old friends but that they're YOUR old friends. By obscuring Monaghan's central sunniness under layer after layer of heroin-y darkness, the writers did themselves a real disservice. Perhaps they thought Hurley was one comic relief character enough and he didn't need a counterpart, but on such a dour and self-important show, you need all of the people to poke a needle in the pomposity that you can find.

That's why it was nice when Desmond revealed to Charlie (in Flashes Before Your Eyes, still, for my money, the best episode of the season) that Charlie was destined to die. While some were irritated by the endless potential Charlie deaths (since many still really, really want Charlie to die), the whole concept gave Charlie a darkly humorous bent through the season. Tricia Tanaka would be a fine episode just because of Hurley's desire to break his "curse," but when you toss in Charlie's impending doom, it gives the whole episode a dark undercurrent that makes the humor that much funnier.

So that's why I've kinda been hoping Charlie won't die.

Not because I've warmed extensively to the character himself, but because I think there's a potential within the character for something more interesting and something that could be vital to the show. Plus, I'd rather the show not choose sides in the predestination vs. free will debate (since I know the episode expressing both points of view will be especially turgid), so it might be nice to see that Desmond can be wrong about some things (the show has an out here -- in Flashes we learned that Desmond and Penny don't reunite, and I have a hard time believing the show won't end with the two together). But if they did kill the character, I wouldn't blame them. It's clear they couldn't figure out anything to do with him beyond "drug-addled rock star." I'm just saying it's obvious for reasons other than Charlie being told he was going to die -- that whole business with the ring and the baby, anyone?

But tonight's episode, the penultimate one of the season, managed to both rejuvenate the character and make his death seem a sad inevitability. Largely, this was due to the flashback structure, which the writers have been playing with more and more throughout this season (perhaps presaging an abandonment of the format wholesale in season four, which wouldn't be unwelcome). Instead of telling one story that commented on the on-island action either obliquely or ham-fistedly, Charlie remembered a series of events from his life, which he wrote down on a note for Claire so when he didn't return from his mission, she would know just how much he cared for her. Most of these scenes were pretty maudlin and sentimental, but flashing back to season one is always a treat and the simplicity of the moments made the sentimentality the show was going for more palatable.

And, of course, Charlie managed to make it to the station, where he was accosted by hostiles. So did Desmond lie when he told Charlie he would drown, giving him a story of a hero's journey to get him to go? Or are Desmond's flashes increasingly inaccurate the more he saves Charlie (thus diverting the universe from its preferred course)? I don't know where all of this is heading, but if Charlie is killed brutally (and finally) by The Others, it might lessen the impact of the final moments of this episode where he decided to take grasp of his own destiny (and, indeed, the combination of his selflessness and the music rising on the score -- curse you, Giacchino! -- made the whole moment rather affecting). But we'll wait to see about that until next week.

In the other main storyline, Jack was proved right, which is growing more and more irritating, especially as his self-righteousness doesn't seem to be seen as a tragic flaw by the writers, who perhaps are investing him with some of the wishful thinking that many Americans have invested in the president (or maybe it's all a political commentary or something). I'm still hoping Jack gets his comeuppance, but I feel no certainty that that will happen. All things considered, Jack's plan to attack the Others is pretty good, and his ability to improvise a new plan is also sort of impressive. But I'm tired of the character overall, and it may take a comeuppance to rehabilitate him. For me, at least.

So what do you think happens in the season finale? We've been promised a massive cliffhanger. If you spoil it, I will hunt you down and kill you. I mean it. Just speculation for now, please!

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