"Tricia Tanaka is Dead"
Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Eric Laneuville
In which Hurley discovers an abandoned Dharma Initiative van in the jungle, prompting him to begin a new project to get it running, while Kate pursues a plan to rescue Jack from the Others...
Status Report - Final Analysis
Reaction to this episode ought to be interesting. On the one hand, it delivers exactly what the audience has been clamoring for since the beginning of the season: more time devoted to the original survivors and the beach settlement. On the other hand, this episode is devoted to something that is about as self-contained as it gets. A lot of people will enjoy the break from the more literal mysteries, but for some, this will be considered little more than filler.
Of course, this being "Lost", filler is a matter of perspective. On the surface, Hurley's struggle with his "curse" is a somewhat disappointing follow-up on his character-defining backstory in "Numbers". It adds an important layer to Hurley's history, but it does feel a bit shoe-horned into the information given in the previous episodes. Hurley's single-minded pursuit of automobile repair also seems a bit odd as a central plot thread, when so little of the post-hatch world of the JackLocke tribe has been explored.
These criticisms are all true, but it's not the complete picture. There are two aspects of the episode worthy of further consideration. One of them is a fairly common feature for "Lost" and American fiction as a whole. The heart of this story is Hurley's complex emotional relationship with his father. Right from the beginning, it's clear that Hurley's entire personality is directly related to his father's decision to abandon his family when Hurley was young. Hurley spent years dealing with the complex love/hate feelings about his father.
This actually leads into the second and more intriguing aspect of the episode, one that pertains directly to one of the primary concepts at the core of the series. Hurley comes to believe, as seen in “Numbers”, that his money is cursed. His mother, a religious woman, does not approve of Hurley’s interpretation of events. This is one reason she contacts Hurley’s father (her other reason is hilarious and a scary visual place, to say the least). Despite her strong belief in a grand design, she disapproves of Hurley’s constant negativism.
Of course, Hurley suspects that his father's return is more about money than concern for his son's psychological health. And given the fact that Hurley was in an institution for a while before winning the lottery, he has good reason to hold that belief. After all, if his father was going to be concerned, why not show up at that point? This actually makes Hurley's mother look a lot more selfish, because she admits to calling Hurley's father to come back this time around. It's not clear whether or not she called in past situations, only to be rebuffed, but it's an open question.
At the center of this tension between father and son is a difference in philosophy. Hurley has always adopted, for better or worse, a philosophy of predestination. He doesn't question the possibility of a man like Desmond seeing into the future. He doesn't question the possibility of a curse or a universe bent on his unhappiness. He may believe in a limited version of free will, but on some level, he believes that everything happens for a reason and a human being can be trapped within a soul-crushing destiny.
His father was all about changing one's luck and application of free will, and Hurley feels the need to find hope for a change after everything that's happened lately. This brings him into territory not unlike the ground covered in "Flashes Before Your Eyes". Like Desmond, Hurley is struggling against the idea that things cannot be changed. In typical Hurley fashion, he's doing so in a rather bizarre and often hilarious fashion.
And because this is Hurley, his attempt to change his luck is also laced with thoughts about predestination. While Hurley keeps trying to break the "curse", to change his luck, he's also noticing signs that presage and demand his success. So in the end, despite his feeling of victory, his overall philosophy has not necessarily changed. He still believes that the van was meant to start, a sign of belief in a grand design.
This reflects the ongoing struggle within the series. Are the characters and events all manipulated, by a higher power or human agency, or is it all just coincidence mistaken for fate? This plays directly into the redemptive journey for each character. Jack believes in the power of choices and free will. Locke believes in a higher purpose. Desmond has come to believe in a natural order of things, with a future that cannot be changed. Hurley is trying to embrace a philosophy of free will and control over one’s destiny. It's all part of the philosophical big picture of the series (which, in and of itself, is ironic).
This brings up one of the more interesting aspects of "Lost". Just what constitutes a "filler" episode? Where is the line drawn? If it's simply a matter of addressing open questions about the island and the overall plot, then this could be considered filler. If it's seen as a character study, then this is hardly filler but not entirely satisfying. If it's more about philosophical concepts, then this pertains directly to the main theme of reason vs. faith, free will vs. predestination.
Beyond the pleasant amusement of Hurley's main plot thread, there's a follow-up to the previous episode's argument between Sawyer and Kate. This is a particularly odd subplot, because it would be easy to believe that Sawyer completely screwed up with Kate. Sure enough, they only mention that Sawyer let Karl go, not the fact that Kate was the one who was dealing with her own guilt over leaving Jack behind. She carries on with her plan to rescue Jack regardless of anyone else, leaving Sawyer to apologize. This does serve to remind Sawyer and everyone else that he's still a bit of an outsider, distrusted by most of the other survivors, but it's a bit odd.
Other small items are also explored. Locke and Sayid are still devoted to finding and rescuing Jack, even if Kate doesn't want their help. A bit more of a connection to "The Cost of Living" would have been nice, since the reference to Eko's staff is a bit obscure after the long hiatus. It's also great to see Charlie dealing with his possible early demise and the tension between Jin and Sun from "The Glass Ballerina". And of course, Rousseau's return is more than welcome, since she hasn't been seen since "Maternity Leave".
Enough of the episode works to overcome a few minor nitpicks. Most of these concern the Dharma van, which never should have run. For one thing, the fuel would have gone bad long ago. The hoses, belts, and tires should have suffered serious dry-rot. The rest of the fluids should have evaporated or congealed. Those little details were completely ignored, which makes sense in terms of the story, but it's a little annoying. Thankfully, if one can overcome the issues surrounding the van, this is a pleasant bit of character study with a healthy dose of philosophical exploration.
Overall, this episode took on one of the central philosophical ideas at the heart of "Lost" and explored it in an unusual manner. This was definitely the most light-hearted episode of the season to date, and it's hard to imagine that anything could top it. There are some minor nitpicks along the way, and the episode could feel a bit like filler, but it's a fine addition to the third season.
Final Rating: 7/10
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