"All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues"
Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Stephen Williams
In which Jack and Locke vie for control during the search for Claire and Charlie, prompting Jack to remember a key moment in his relationship with his father...
Status Report - Final Analysis
The series is now approximately halfway through the first season, and as one would expect, the plot complexity has kicked up to the next level. In fact, it might have overtaken several levels on the way up. Basic assumptions are challenged in this episode, and there’s a definitive feeling of loosening control; characters that once seemed impervious now appear shaken and uncertain. While there are certainly more than a few intriguing plot twists, it’s clear that the heart and soul of the series is character.
Once again, the writers allow the format of the series to evolve as necessary to maintain the strength of the narrative. Rather than focusing on a single character, the emphasis is on the various plot elements in play following Claire’s abduction by Ethan. The flashbacks pertain to Jack, of course, but the episode isn’t just about him. One could easily argue that something very important is happening with Locke as well.
Jack’s memories of his father and his decision to make his father accountable drive him in this episode, and they factor into something that the island facilitates. It’s important to remember that Jack never really resolved his issues in “White Rabbit”; he took the first step, but that’s about it. If Jack is being tested, then this is a continuance of that test: what has Jack learned from the experiences of his past?
In the wake of an episode that left the audience wondering if the series was all about Claire’s baby, the writers provide a rather stunning reminder that everyone on the island is there for a reason. Three things emerge from Jack’s past history, all of which pertain to the current situation: his father let a mother and unborn baby die to cover his own mistakes, Jack was unknowingly pushed into giving up on two patients, and Jack might have driven his father into that final, fatal trip to Australia.
The first item puts him at odds with Locke, who has already emerged as a father figure on the island, especially for Jack. Every time Locke seems to hesitate, Jack equates that with his father’s choice to treat that patient and her unborn child with such caprice. Over the past few episodes, characters have remarked that Locke seems to be on his own wavelength (often in rather subtle fashion), and in the current crisis, Jack clearly sees Locke as placing his own agenda over Claire’s rescue. It doesn’t have to be the case, of course, for Jack to feel that way.
The moral weakness exhibited by Jack’s father left Jack with a feeling of responsibility and guilt that he hasn’t been able to shake. Jack has a natural instinct to fight to the end for what’s right, something that his father was all too skilled at defeating. All things being equal, an objective observer might say that Jack didn’t know enough to be fully responsible, and that he did everything to save the patient with the knowledge at his disposal. But Jack still feels like he gave up too soon; the island, one way or another, gives him a second chance to revisit that scenario.
Left unresolved is the larger issue in Jack’s psychology: his feelings of responsibility for his father’s death. If the writers are following the same logic that led to Charlie’s resurrection, then Locke is going to get himself into a situation where Jack has to save his life. This is already foreshadowed by Locke’s various comments that Ethan is a better hunter. Saving his father figure on the island could be the moment of catharsis that Jack needs to transcend his personal doubts.
Ultimately Jack is being taught not to give up, to keep fighting when it comes to his principles. That means getting past mistakes when they are honest ones, and letting his consequential actions make up for them. In this episode, he learns that lesson in the most harsh way imaginable: risking his own life to keep chasing after Ethan and then practically willing Charlie back to life.
The growing unease between Jack and Kate gets a little worse in this episode. She still trusts him to do the right thing, but he’s not opening up as much as he seems to think she should. Under the circumstances, her tight-lipped policy on her past history is impossible to maintain, but Jack should have opened up about his own reasons for pushing her so hard. Kate rightfully questions Jack on his rationale, both in his treatment of Locke and his decision to rush forward without a clear path. It’s something that Jack has to do for himself, no question, but he doesn’t have to shut everyone else out in the process.
Despite only appearing in a few scenes, Sawyer’s reaction to Sayid’s return and his stunning news about “others” on the island could be very important. Sawyer seems to be rather disinterested in the whole situation with Claire until he learns that there are others on the island; that information is enough to wipe away thoughts of sweet revenge on Sayid. Sawyer even joins Michael’s little search party. It’s unlikely that this is out of a sudden desire to bring Claire and Charlie home safely; he might consider others on the island a useful resource. On the other hand, he may just be wary of possible competition.
Speaking of Sayid, the man is seriously questioning his sanity. He was already concerned that something unusual was happening on the island, given how many people came through the crash unscathed, but now he knows a lot more and it’s not leaving him with the warm fuzzies. If anything, Sayid is wondering what these “others” might be, after Danielle told him about how the others were “lost” when they were taken by “it”.
Charlie’s experience is tied directly to Jack’s little life lesson, but he has something worse to live through than lingering notions of guilt. It seems rather clear that Charlie was dead by the time Jack and Kate found him, and Jack really shouldn’t have been able to bring him back. The rather disturbing implication is that the island itself brought Charlie back to give Jack his moment of epiphany. If that’s the case, then there’s a purpose to Charlie’s rebirth; was his experience in “The Moth” merely a precursor to this moment? Or was Locke really killed in “Walkabout”, and then reborn, changed?
This episode seems all about revealing hidden aspects of characters or questioning assumptions about them. Even Hurley tosses out some interesting information that could play into the larger scheme of things. It’s probably no accident that Hurley was a ranked backgammon player; it suggests that his previous insights into the situation on the island were related to his skill at the game. His comment about being considered a “warrior” is also suggestive; was this merely talk, or does Hurley have a violent past? There seems to be a reason why Hurley’s story is being saved for later in the season.
If Locke’s life is going to be in danger, then Boone’s life is also likely to be on the line. Shannon’s concerns in this episode feel like foreshadowing. Locke gives Boone more than a few opportunities to turn back, after all, and Locke ultimately admits that he’s operating from some gut instinct about the way things are supposed to be. Leaving aside the fact that Locke is not as infallible as he seems to be when it comes to this instinct, Boone is way over his depth. It would not be surprising if Shannon and Boone’s story coincides with Jack’s probable journey to save Locke’s life.
Michael is still something of a mystery, but it’s clear that his relationship with Walt is falling apart. As hinted from the very beginning, Michael is caught in a struggle with Locke over Walt. For his own part, Walt seems a bit too lucky at that game with Hurley. A lot of things seem to happen just as Walt imagines them as happening: the polar bear and the roll of the dice are just two examples. Considering the possibilities surrounding Claire’s baby, Walt’s apparent ability to manifest elements of his imagination is disturbing.
Up to this point, Locke seemed to be wise beyond all measure, but the feverish confidence displayed in “Walkabout” may be the source of that certainty. Locke may be the voice of the island, but that doesn’t mean he’s always certain of every circumstance. He believes that some kind of gut instinct is at play, something like a subconscious communication of what should happen. But as seen in this episode, he’s often making the assumption that the others are feeling the same thing.
This is clear when Locke expresses shock that Boone can’t hear “it”. This comes right after Boone asks whether they are “lost”, and Locke replies that they are not. Compared against Danielle’s description of what happened with her fellow scientists, this falls in line with the theories expressed since the review for “Solitary”. Locke is attuned to something, which led him and Boone to that very location. Locke and Boone were meant to go there, just as Jack and Kate were meant to find Charlie.
Several questions remain unanswered. There’s still no indication as to the size and location of Ethan’s camp, and there’s the rather interesting question of how one man could drag two people away against their will with seemingly little effort. Charlie was strung up in a location that would have been awkward for one person to handle; Ethan seems more than just a little talented as a hunter. If there is a higher power on the island manipulating events to test the survivors, then it could have empowered Ethan (or even created him) for that purpose.
As usual, this episode walks the fine line between revealing some higher power at work and suggesting that the survivors are simply assuming what they want to believe is true. To blur the lines of perception and reality even more, at least one character seems to have the ability to render assumptions and beliefs into reality. That can’t be the total answer, of course, since Danielle made it clear that something had been at work on the island for more than 16 years. It’s still possible that some disease or substance unique to the island causes people to begin believing they are following a higher calling.
The hollow metal object found by Locke and Boone could be many things. One very easy guess is that it’s the buried remains of an earlier plane crash, perhaps the one carrying Ethan and his “others”. If that’s the case, then there might be information contains within that could lead Locke and Boone to Ethan’s camp. That would play into the implied plot thread nicely. Alternatively, it could be a bunker left from World War II, the remnant of some kind of military experiment.
The tension is maintained throughout the episode, but the best scene has to be the most harrowing: the discovery of Charlie’s body and Jack’s attempt to bring him back to life. It’s brutal in execution, especially since the audience has no reason to expect that the characters will all survive. It’s just a matter of time before someone is killed, and it was all too possible for Charlie to be the first cast member to go. As it stands, he did die; the fact that he was brought back to life is something else entirely.
Aside from the plot implications, it’s simply a strong scene. Emotions are laid bare for the audience to see: Jack frantically pounding on Charlie’s chest, the young man’s body flailing with each blow, while Kate sobs uncontrollably, unable to watch. It’s doubtful that anyone in the audience was casually watching this happen; scenes like this are the very definition of “edge of your seat”.
This is why it’s so obvious that character is at the heart of the series. If this were merely a series about survival, concerned only with the pseudo-political struggles between people vying for power and plot considerations, then it would not be nearly so successful. The writers make a concerted effort to let the audience know these characters well enough to care about them. That’s key to any successful series; the audience only wants to watch if they internalize the characters and their struggles.
With this episode, the series comes to an effective mid-point, which also happens to coincide with the winter hiatus. At least a month will pass before the next episode. The challenge now is to prevent this delay from killing the momentum of the series’ success. So far, the network is thinking clearly. It plans to re-run most of the episodes to date in a two-hour block every Wednesday until the premiere of “Alias”. This allows people to catch up, get new viewers hooked on the show, and then promote heavily for “Alias” (and in turn, promote the return of “Lost” during the “Alias” premiere). There are enough connections between the two series to make this synergy work extremely well.
Overall, this episode continued the evolution of the series, moving from simply introducing the characters to the complex situation on the island. Assumptions are challenged and several future plot threads are introduced. The scenes with Charlie are simply amazing, especially since they open up some serious implications. Halfway through the season, the series has yet to dip below average, and there’s plenty to reason to believe this trend will continue.
Final Rating: 9/10
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