“Hearts And Minds” (season 1, episode 13; originally aired 01/12/2005)

In which Boone sees the light (and shags his sister).

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon)

The hatch is not the hatch yet.

There was some discussion in the comments last week that I didn’t spend enough time discussing the metal door Locke and Boone discovered in the jungle, but that’s really because it isn’t anything yet. Locke and Boone don’t know how to open it. Locke and Boone don’t know what it is. And there’s nothing yet to indicate what’s down it: even if my use of “the hatch” would give new viewers some indication of its importance, there’s still no certainty at this point in the story that the hatch is something more than a physical object Locke and Boone stumbled across in the jungle.

And yet that’s what makes the hatch so integral to “Hearts And Minds.” It doesn’t need to mean something specific to take on meaning in the context of the island, and in Locke’s belief in it. Locke resists Boone’s efforts to tell anyone else about the hatch because he doesn’t think they will understand, and yet he knows that he understands the hatch and the island. He doesn’t need a compass, as he has come to understand the island in a way that transcends such silly tools of navigation. More than any other castaway, Locke has embraced the ways of the island as his own, and has accordingly taken the hatch as a symbol of what the island has to offer if he fully lets go of his past life in order to become one with his new surroundings.

Locke can do this because he has nothing to hold on to. By giving him back his legs, the island has given him a new lease on life, and he gladly left all of his previous attachments behind given this extraordinary gift. Unfortunately for Locke, not everyone else sees the island in the same way, and in the case of Boone you have someone whose past came with him to the island. While other characters are faced with remnants of their past lives (Kate and the toy plane, Jack and Christian’s ghost, Sayid and the photo of Nadia), the subject of Boone’s flashback is staring him in the face every time he comes back to camp, asking him what he’s doing in the woods with Locke each day. “Hearts And Minds” is about whether or not Boone is willing or able throw away his relationship with his past and cut his stepsister Shannon out of his present.

The episode’s flashbacks tell the story of why that would be challenging. In the presumed absence of a father figure, Boone has played the role of the protective big brother, swooping in at a moment’s notice when Shannon’s in trouble with a boyfriend in Australia. Boone still lives a privileged life compared to many of the other castaways, given that we first meet him finishing a game of tennis with an attractive blonde at a country club, but he carries the burden of a relationship that is what we could probably best describe as complicated. It’s complicated when we discover that Boone has paid off other boyfriends in the past, it’s even more complicated when we learn that Shannon has been faking these attacks to get money out of her brother, and things spiral right into almost-incest when they sleep together after the boyfriend exits the picture. It’s a psychological minefield, one that informs everything Boone does on the island so long as his primary goal is protecting Shannon.

In retrospect, this explains a lot of what Boone has done to this point in the season. He has fumbled his way through attempts at helping Jack or protecting the group, but he’s never really fully asserted himself. Based on this flashback, it’s clear he doesn’t really know how: there’s no one to pay off, and he never developed the skills to do much outside of that. But Boone wants to be something more, and Locke represents the person who can help him unlock this greater self. As noted, however, Locke is also someone who has no ties to cut, meaning he’s unable to put himself in Boone’s shoes to consider what it would affect him to lie to Shannon and cut her from his life.

The actual process through which this takes place is a bit over-the-top: Locke’s magical hallucination paste is far from an exact science, and yet it constructs a very specific dream sequence that the episode uses for blatant misdirection. Unlike Claire’s dream sequence, which openly acknowledged its alternate reality in the opening seconds, there are no clear indicators this is a dream sequence. We cut to flashbacks just as we do in reality, and the dream sequence even cuts across multiple commercial breaks, such that I can’t imagine in the moment being entirely aware that the monster’s attack on Boone and Shannon was in fact imaginary. Just a few episodes after faking Charlie’s death, “Hearts And Minds” is even more brazen with the audience’s trust, although once again to a specific character-driven end: seeing Shannon die allows Boone to experience the relief he would have if he didn’t feel responsible for her anymore, and frees him to follow Locke’s path to island enlightenment.

Beyond the convenience that the paste creates exactly the hallucination experience that serves Locke’s goals, the storyline suffers due to the lack of Shannon’s perspective. There are reasons to focus on Boone, but one of the challenges is that Boone is truly overprotective: everything we’ve seen has suggested Sayid’s interest in Shannon is genuine, but Boone’s instincts lead him to threaten a man he probably shouldn’t be threatening, while simultaneously stripping Shannon of any agency. The way Boone speaks to Shannon during the flashback—“selfish little bitch” stood out—is also explicitly gendered in ways that showcase how Boone’s understanding of Shannon has been skewed by her seeming dependence on him. The gendered nature of his comments is understandable given their history, and it’s supposed to be a messed up relationship on multiple levels, but it still feels like the first half of a story waiting for the other half to kick in (not unlike Showtime’s upcoming series The Affair, which tells the same sequence of events from both a male and female perspective in each episode).

The waiting is in full force elsewhere in the episode. Jack spends the episode visiting different characters (Sayid, Charlie, Locke) to reflect on recent events, hearing about the magnetic forces of the island, the trustworthiness of Locke, and the reason there might not be any boar in their future. Hurley’s feeling the ill effects of a limited diet, and the digestive problems aren’t helped when his attempts to catch a fish with Jin result in a sea urchin incident and a urine-based moment of failed translation. Sun plants a garden with Kate, beginning another waiting game and accidentally revealing her ability to speak English after being too attentive to one of Kate’s stories. Locke tells Boone that he gave him “an experience that will be vital to your experience on this island,” an idea that can manifest as large-scale hallucinations of your stepsister dying at the hands of an unseen terror, but could equally be a new friendship being discovered, or a new discovery reshaping one’s understanding of the island’s oddities. The smaller stories are not integral to the season or the series, but they offer those kernels of progress that keep transitional episodes like this one moving forward amidst lingering on characters like Boone and Shannon to set up future story developments.

Stray observations:

  • Given that it all happened in the context of his hallucination, I really want to know what Boone imagined was chasing them and eventually killed Shannon.
  • “I can see you there, you know”—I think Jack creepily watching Kate collect seeds is one of the earliest cases where the actions of the characters really work to strip away any chemistry the actors have.
  • I imagine there had to be some additional deleted scenes of Jin and Hurley, since we never see how Hurley’s situation is solved. It’s mainly just an excuse for Jorge Garcia to yell “PEE ON IT” while aggressively pointing to Daniel Dae Kim’s crotch, which wasn’t the worst television, all told.
  • Flashback Tag: Michael finds his own luggage, and investigates a wooden box that we never get to see inside.
  • Daddy Issues Alert: As noted above, I think Boone’s big brother attracted to stepsister scenario is definitely at least daddy issues-adjacent.

“Special” (season 1, episode 14; originally aired 01/19/2005)

In which Lost does “Cat’s In The Cradle,” with polar bears.

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon).

Now 14 episodes into its first season, there has been plenty of time for us to learn about Michael and Walt. Whereas early flashbacks were revealing things that we hadn’t even had time to guess at, we’ve had thirteen episodes of glimpses into Michael and Walt’s pasts. We know they’re not especially close, and that Michael wasn’t a major part of Walt’s life. We know that Walt has another father. We know Walt has some uncanny skills at winning games of backgammon. Although it’s difficult in rewatching the series to know how much my foreknowledge of “Special” connected the dots together, there are more dots for Michael and Walt than there were for characters that received their first flashbacks earlier in the season.

Similar to Boone and Shannon, however, Michael and Walt present a distinct challenge in that neither is able to fully function as an individual in the context of their time on the island. And unlike in the case of Boone and Shannon, or Jin and Sun, there is logic to Michael’s overprotective impulses with Walt—he is a father, and it is his job to keep his son safe. Even if one could argue Michael is too strict with Walt, as in his refusal to let him spend time with Locke, it is within his purview as a parent in a way that Jin’s efforts to force Sun to dress a certain way or Boone trying to take Shannon’s agency away from her in her emerging friendship with Sayid are not in their roles as husband and brother, respectively. At the same time, though, Hurley’s argument that Michael “hates” being a father shows how being overprotective plays to those around you, and brings into perspective the series’ larger investment in “daddy issues” and the wounds therein.

In this way, “Special” is not only invested in giving us more insight into the vaguely mystical nature of Walt, whose ability to visualize his imminent future predates his time on a mysterious tropical island with polar bears. It also works to explain—to the audience, at least—why Michael is the kind of father he is, and it’s a darker portrait than you might have imagined. There are lots of reasons Michael might have been absent in Walt’s life: Claire’s flashback, for instance, outlined one scenario for why a baby’s father might have not wanted to take on the responsibility involved. And yet I don’t think I ever would have predicted that Michael would have had his child taken away from him when his long-term girlfriend Susan chose her career over their relationship, moved Walt to Amsterdam, married her boss, convinced her boss to adopt Walt (thus leaving Michael without parental rights), and then died of a rare blood disorder, leading her husband to pawn his adopted son back on his birth father because he’s unsettled by him (and never wanted to adopt him in the first place). Oh, and Michael gets hit by a car in the midst of all of this, and every letter he sent Walt was intercepted by Susan and kept safely stored away.

It’s a lot to process, especially given how little of it we get to see. Whereas some flashbacks—Boone and Shannon, Kate, Sawyer—have shown us a detailed glimpse of a particular moment in a character’s life, and others like Jack’s first flashback have jumped between different points over the course of a character’s life, Michael and Walt’s flashback is the first since Jin and Sun’s—and perhaps Charlie’s—to chart a single relationship chronologically over a larger period. That means that although the events of these flashbacks cover a ten-year span, we only see a few days of it, which means it’s more of an expository backstory than a particular chapter in a character’s life.

This isn’t necessarily a problem, although it creates an issue here when it comes to the character of Susan. For Michael, the loss of his son and the circumstances that bring him back into his life do a lot to frame how he’s parenting on the island, and his desire to build a raft to keep from having to raise his kid—for the first time, really—in this environment. For Walt, the glimpse of his ability to bring all the birds to the yard is a meaningful bit of mystery-building. But for the former story to work, it depends on Susan being a villain in their story on the same level as Sun’s father is a villain in “House Of The Rising Sun,” and Susan does not have the benefit of running a criminal enterprise for that characterization to make sense. She’s just a woman who cuts her son’s father out of his life in increasingly aggressive ways, for reasons that are never really stated clearly enough to justify her choices. While she had no control over Michael getting hit by a car, or her death, everything else that happens is based on her decisions, the logic for which died with her. It creates a meaningful existential crisis for Michael when he discovers his letters tucked away in a wooden box, sure, but it also makes the story less resonant and more overwhelming.

“Special” is the last episode in a lull period for the season, as it ends with Claire reemerging from the jungle and returning us to the events of “All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues.” Boone and Locke are still dealing with the hatch, but they have time to connect with Walt and Michael’s story here; Kate and Charlie go on a mission to reclaim Claire’s belongings, including her diary, but it’s mainly an excuse to seed a few mysteries and set up her return. The tragedy of Michael and Walt’s past is therefore the backbone of this episode, paralleled with Walt’s run-in with the polar bear that suffers from a lack of convincing effects work and a set piece that doesn’t entirely register in the way it seems intended to. It’s not an ineffective story all told, and it ties into central themes of the series and the broader narrative forming around it, but it still ends up having to do a lot of explaining without finding as much time for the character work the flashbacks are best suited for.

Stray observations:

  • It’s a small moment, but I love when Michael basically steals Vincent from Brian—it’s a brief dose of levity in what is primarily a dark story.
  • Lots of conspicuous direction from Greg Yaitanes here, including some engaging tracking shots of the campfire as Jack, Charlie, and Sayid talk through the potential meanings of the “Black Rock.”
  • Since we’re addressing Walt in detail for the first time, here is my public service announcement that Malcolm David Kelley is now part of pop duo MKTO, which is currently in Billboard’s Top 10 with “Classic.” And if anyone wants to rewrite the lyrics to be about the show and these reviews, feel free.

  • So, do we think Walt ever did a project on rare blood disorders?
  • There’s a gorgeous scene with Kate and Charlie that takes place at sunset in the episode—it’s very brief, likely because they couldn’t keep the light consistent enough to shoot a longer scene, but it’s stunning.
  • The level of CGI blur on that polar bear reminds you that for as much as Lost’s pilot costs, the visual effects budget for a broadcast series under a tight production schedule still wasn’t pretty in 2005.
  • I wouldn’t say I have a man crush on Boone, because he’s the worst, but I definitely got lost in Ian Somerhalder’s eyes at some point in this episode. It’s unavoidable.
  • Daddy Issues Alert: So Walt didn’t even really know he had daddy issues, and now he has a father who he thinks abandoned him, and a father who actually abandoned him. Awesome.

Spoiler Station (Don’t read if you haven’t seen the whole series):

  • So this week combines the two flashbacks for the characters that are set to disappear before the end of the season: while we’ll see a fair bit of Boone after his impending death, the simple reality of puberty all but doomed Malcolm David Kelley to his departure from the series.
  • Let’s talk polar bears. It’s a coincidence that Walt finds the comic book featuring one, but my understanding of his power is that he can only make things come to him, rather than make them appear out of thin air. So I’m presuming there’s an alternative version of this episode where we cut to the Others dealing with a polar bear escape.

Next week: With Claire comes Ethan, and more flashbacks for Charlie and Sawyer.