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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lost: "Cabin Fever"

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Illustration for article titled Lost: "Cabin Fever"

Which of these belongs to you: a vial of sand, an ancient book of laws, a compass, a Mystery Tales comic book (featuring the story "The Hidden Land"), a baseball glove, or a knife? A word of caution: Don't reach for the object that represents the kind of person you want to be. Reach for the object that represents who you are.

I hope some, most, or all of you recognized the test that the never-aging Richard gave to young Locke tonight in his flashback as the same test given to prospective Dalai Lamas. (I knew watching Kundun was going to come in handy someday!) And I hope you appreciated how nice it was to see yet another Season Four episode with nary a wasted scene or moment, pushing the action along while also filling in some blanks, and bringing to a full boil a theme that has been percolating in the background all along.

Blank #1: What's happening back on the freighter?

Well, apparently after Sayid betrayed Michael, poor "Kevin Johnson" has been chained in his room, while Sayid and Desmond have been given the run of the ship. But that all changes after Widmore Thug Deluxe, Keamy, returns with his smoke-monster-battered crew, and prepares to re-arm for another run at the island. Sayid convinces the captain to let him have a boat so he can start evacuating the 815-ers before bedlam reigns, while Frank the pilot scrambles to find a way to prevent said slaughter from occurring. Frank's obstinacy ultimately gets the captain shot, and the doctor's throat slit. (So now the doctor's corpse can at long last begin its journey into the recent past.)

Blank #2: What's happening with the Locke-Ben-Hurley Cabin Quest?

They've apparently been walking around in circles, none of them sure how to find Jacob's home again. But then Locke has another one of his patented crazy-ass dreams, in which Ben's old pal Horace tells Locke to return to the Dharma Initiative Mass Grave. After Locke retrieves a map–and tells Hurley about Ben's part in a genocide, which Ben partly denies–the trio finally reach the cabin, where Locke enters alone and finds…Christian Shepherd, hanging out with his daughter Claire. But more on that in a moment.

Blank #3: What are Sawyer and Miles up to?

Uh…don't ask that. Not on the show this week, dude.

Blank #4: What's happening on the beach?

Not much. The sound of Frank's arriving chopper raises much excitement–and much anxiety and muttering of "oh god oh god" from me sitting on my couch–but the helicopter merely flies over, with Frank dropping a GPS locator so the castaways can find him. If they want to. And I'm not sure they want to.

Blank #5: What makes Locke special?

Ah, now here's where this episode really shines. In our first old-fashioned castaway flashback all season (Jin and Michael don't count), we witness the birth of Locke and his not-so-great upbringing. Dumped by his teenage mother. Pestered by his sister in the home of the family who adopts him. Pushed around in high school. Left paralyzed by his dad. And yet, all along, he's being watched by the agents of…well, we don't really know yet, do we? "Hostile" Richard is there when Locke is still a preemie, and he returns when Locke's a young boy to give him the test I mentioned up top. And Richard returns yet again when Locke's a teenager to drop off a pamphlet for a Mittelos Bioscience summer camp (which Locke, denying his destiny yet again, refuses to attend). And finally, Abaddon–who later will have a hand in placing Charlotte, Miles, Frank, Daniel and Naomi on the freighter, but may or may not work for Widmore–comes to see Locke when he's rehabbing from his spinal injury, and plants the bug in his ear to go on a Walkabout in Australia.

So either Locke is almost-but-not-quite the savior of the island, or he's the honest-to-goodness One True Savior, and he's spent all his life avoiding that responsibility, almost by accident. What a thoughtful piece of character definition by the writers. The model of the reluctant, ignorant and/or unexpected hero is fairly common in myth (and in fantasy fiction), but the way these archetypes have been combined in Locke is especially compelling. Here's a guy who wants to be a hero, but keeps missing the signs and opportunities, because the model of heroism in his head is all cocked-up. (See also: Jack. And Ben, I'm guessing.)

When Locke finally enters Jacob's cabin, he doesn't find exactly what he's looking for, but the Shepherd clan does give him another chance to prove himself, by telling him he only has time to ask one question, and it had better be the right one. And though Locke had already asked the question he was most interested in–"Do you know why I'm here?"–he finally figures out how to ask what everyone's been wanting him to ask for nearly 50 years: "How do I save the island?"

Tonight's episode moved the pieces into place, yes, but it didn't feel as much like a wheel-spinner as last week, because it was about something. It was about a man finally embracing his destiny. And maybe, just a little, it was about Ben's warning about destiny: that it can be…a…fickle…bitch.

Grade: A

Stray observations:

-You just can't kill Kevin Johnson.

-When Sayid hopped onto his boat to ride off to the island, the Lost team cued up the show's rarely used "adventure theme," usually saved for season finales. I love that theme.

-Though this was Locke's episode, acting-wise it was more of a showcase for Michael Emerson than Terry O'Quinn. The look on Ben's face when he noticed that Locke was awaking from a vision, and his reaction as Locke showed Hurley the Dharma grave, and his misunderstanding of Locke trying to help Hurley as a form of manipulation…it was all enough to make me feel pity for twisted ol' Ben.

-I always start Lost about 15 minutes after airtime so that I can skip through the commercials, and it makes me a little jumpy to know that some Lost fans are already seeing things I as yet haven't. Does anyone else have this experience?

Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:

-So, I left out one major point in the plot summary: How Christian Shepherd, channeling Jacob (or so he says), wants Locke to save the day. "He wants us to move the island," Locke explains. My wife the theologian (who has studied the classics) immediately piped up and told me about Aeolia, "the floating island," the home of the four winds in Homer's The Odyssey.

-After the teasers last week that showed Horace walking around and talking about being dead, I'm sure some people are going to be miffed that it was all a dream, and that we're not getting any more info about the island's dead-raising properties. Don't sweat it, folks. I think ghosts (or zombies) are still a major part of the Lost mythology, and I'm on board with those who have theorized that Locke saw two of those ghosts tonight in Jacob's cabin.

-The "secondary protocol" that Keamy pulled from the captain's safe appeared to have a Dharma logo. Who knew those hippies were so into black ops?

-Locke's flashbacks were ripe with nods to the mythology, including his childhood drawing of the smoke monster, his early interest in backgammon, and the Geronimo Jackson poster in his high school locker.

Flashbackin'…Season Three, Eps. 9-12:

-I'll run through these real quick, because I'm more interested in "Cabin Fever" this week. I will note however that as the gap between the old episodes I'm watching and the new episodes each week narrows, I'm starting to get a better sense of Lost's success as a sustained narrative. I'll write more about that in a couple of weeks, during Season Four's gap-week.

-I was real curious to see whether "Stranger In A Strange Land" (a.k.a. the "Jack gets tattooed" flashback episode) would look better in retrospect, but while it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, it certainly was a bummer way to follow up the back-to-back knockouts "Not In Portland" and "Flashes Before Your Eyes." In some ways, "Stranger In A Strange Land" is like a psychological experiment conducted by the Lost writers, expressly testing the viewers' patience with certain recurring Lost annoyances. Kate and Sawyer finally escape The Others, with lifelong Other Karl in tow, and what do they do? Kate starts making noises about how they have to go back for Jack, and Sawyer lets Karl escape without asking any relevant questions about what the Others have been doing on the island for lo how many years. Jack runs into the 815 stewardess (and kids) in the Others' camp, and what does he do? Yells at them to go away, before asking any questions. And as of this moment, Jack's flashback to his days kicking around Phuket has been relevant only to "Stranger In A Strange Land," as a parallel to Juliet being "marked" by her colleagues for killing Danny. On the other hand, I'm still a subscriber to what I call the "shoplifting rule of serialized drama" when it comes to Lost: Until you leave the store, you haven't stolen anything. So if at some point in the next two seasons, Lost brings Jack's tattooist back into the mythology, "Stranger In A Strange Land" might still have a chance to become a retroactively pivotal episode. And even if not, there are a few tidbits in it. When Ben changes Juliet's sentence from "death" to "marking," the note he sends to the tribunal reads "the rules don't apply," which echoes what he said a couple of weeks ago about his Widmore rivalry. And there's certainly something significant about Flashback Jack arrogantly insisting that a woman do his bidding, only to screw up her life and possibly his own. Is history repeating with Juliet? Or Kate? Or is Jack just an utter bastard when it comes to the ladies?

-Next up: "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead" (a.k.a. "Hurley finds a hippie car and listens to Three Dog Night"), an episode which for several friends of mine–including our beloved A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps–was their last, bitter Lost experience. Personally, I enjoyed this episode when it first aired, and I enjoyed it again this week, for reasons I'll get to in a moment. But I know that for some, spending an hour watching Hurley try to fix a car seemed very much like the plot of a very different show–one that doesn't have two dozen mysteries left unsolved. As it happens, there were a few mythologically/thematically key elements in "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead," including that damn van (soon to be a weapon in the season finale), the introduction of the corpse of Ben's dad "Roger Workman," and a flashback in which Hurley meets his dad again and learns that, curse aside, "You've got to make your own luck."

-The last two episodes in the quartet are pretty up and down, though they do move things forward efficiently. In "Enter 77," the dream team of Jack/Locke/Sayid/Rousseau encounters the awesomeness that is Mikhail, and try to figure out whether he's Dharma or an Other. It's an exciting episode by and large (and key to what's happening now, with its tales of "the purge" and such), but bothersome for the introduction Locke The Exploder, destroying satellite link-ups and submarines and anything else that might be useful. Oh, and "Enter 77" also contains the Hurley-beats-Sawyer-at-ping-pong subplot, which is cute but overly fluffy. As for episode 12, "Par Avion," it wasn't a dud by any means–and it did finally make the Claire-Christian connection plain–but Claire's "tie a message to the birds" plan was pretty silly, and Locke's sudden "killing" of Mikhail by tossing him through the sonic fence still seems rash and out of character. But I did find it interesting that before Claire and her mother got in their car accident–again with the car accidents–that Claire says she wished her mother were dead. (Just like Juliet wished her ex-husband would get hit by a bus before he inevitably did.)

-Here's a piece of TV Club lore: When we were first kicking around ideas for our TV blog, I suggested a very tight format that would be quick and easy to write. The idea was rejected–and rightly so, as it turns out–but the episode I used as model for my concept was "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead." Retrieved from my archives, here's that model (with the formatting streamlined so it won't take up too much space in this post):

LostEpisode Title: "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead" … Spoiler-free summary: It's a Hurley episode! When everyone's favorite castaway finds a busted-up VW bus, he enlists Jin, Charlie and the newly returned-to-the-beach Sawyer to help him fix it up, all while flashing back to the days just after he won the lottery, when his absentee dad (played by Cheech Marin) jumped back into his life. … Any good? (possible spoilers ahead): If Lost were like any other TV drama, this would qualify as a standout episode. It was funny, sweet, and even tense toward the end as Hurley and Charlie put their lives and their potential optimism in the care of a rusted-out engine, straining to kick over. Those who've grown impatient with Lost's hurry-up-and-wait approach to story development have plenty of reason to complain about "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead," especially since plunging ratings may mean that the show is going to have to wrap up quick next year, making all these (literal in this case) wheel-spinning episodes all the more irksome. But those who've been waiting for our heroes to interact with each other again got their spirits lifted this week, especially when a cranky Sawyer was disarmed by Hurley throwing a big bear hug his way and exclaiming–with genuine relief–"Dude, you're alive!" That's kind of how I feel about Lost since the season re-started. If I could hug it, I would. … Quote of the night: From Saywer to Hurley: "Hey, you got yourself a hippie car!" … Grade: A-

Note from the present day: Remember back before we heard the news about Lost's exit strategy, when it seemed like the show was about to be cancelled? Those were the days, huh?