“Catch-22” (originally aired 04/18/2007)

As far as “Lost Book Club” moments go, the appearance of a Portugeuse language copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is one of the most prominent. Although not the first episode of the series to be named after a famous literary work, it’s the first to have that work explicitly appear in the episode, and the first where the inherent themes of that work are so apparent in the storyline itself. Desmond quite literally finds himself in a catch-22 situation in “Catch-22,” while the novel’s non-linear timeline and various character perspectives offer as clear a parallel with Lost as one might imagine.

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This Desmond episode is all about perspective, in a way that is distinct from other characters. Unlike nearly every other character on the island, Desmond does not need a flashback to make his perspective on events unique. His own personal “flashes” make him a narratively complex character to follow with or without a flashback, which for much of the episode’s running time makes the flashback an odd distraction from the island story. Desmond saw good things happen in his flashes: he saw a flashing red light in the sky, he saw a parachute, and he saw the photo he took with Penny by the river in London. In his mind, Desmond pieces this together: if he ensures the events depicted unfold, then he is reunited with Penny and they are able to get off the island. He believes that Penny is still looking for him like she said she would, and that belief fuels his efforts to do everything in his power to ensure that blinking light and parachute and photo come to pass—the only problem is that the other part of his vision was Charlie getting killed by one of Rousseau’s traps.

That is the catch-22 of “Catch-22”: Is Desmond willing to allow Charlie to die if it increases his chances of being reunited with Penny? That’s enough of a conflict in its own right, and includes the play with temporality inherent to the show’s format, and so in reality the episode probably didn’t need a flashback. However, it has one anyway, and so we get what first appears to be a thematic parallel to Desmond’s current situation. After first finding Desmond as a novice in a Monastery, we learn that he’s there after having abandoned his fiancé to follow an uncertain but fated path. For a period, it appears that is the flashback’s only purpose beyond revealing why Desmond calls everyone “brother” (which I appreciate, truly, but isn’t exactly scintillating). The flashback is a big part of why “Catch-22” is the “forgotten” Desmond episode, sandwiched in between two exemplary hours that showcase Lost at its finest.

However, in retrospect, “Catch-22” is more important than I realized. From the perspective of Desmond’s character, the flashback eventually reorients itself: rather than being a parallel reinforcing Desmond’s faith in the path set out before him, it becomes a moment of uncertainty that sees him fired as a Monk, briefly hired back as a manual laborer, and then stumbling upon Penelope Widmore as if it were fate. The cross-cuts between Desmond’s first meet cute with Penny and the woman—turns out it’s not Penny—who parachuted onto the island may pale in comparison to the drunk existential pain of “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” or the poetry of “The Constant,” but it serves both nonetheless. Its success demonstrates the success of “Flashes” and the full-on commitment to the tragedy of Penny and Desmond, while it’s a meaningful stepping stone to make the events of “The Constant” that much more effective. It may not be all that memorable on its own, perhaps, but it’s a crucial link in the chain.

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Moreover, the episode does a nice job in retrospect of balancing needing to introduce a new element—the woman from the helicopter—while also setting the table for the rest of the season. Desmond’s existential conflict regarding Charlie’s death reaches a boiling point here, as he ultimately chooses to save him but in doing so alerts Charlie to the basic truth of it: he’s fated to die, and nothing Desmond does stops that from being true. Desmond is exasperated, really, and you can’t really blame him—it’s a lot of responsibility, and something he didn’t ask for. And although the episode does not fundamentally sever their relationship, the events of Desmond’s search for Penny put everything in the open. Charlie knows that Desmond nearly allowed him to die, and that knowledge will carry with them as the narrative moves forward.

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The narrative needs to move forward—the mystery woman is a part of this, and Kate and Jack joke about how there’s inevitably going to be a storm after the calm they’re experiencing. The episode doesn’t commit to major narrative progress, ultimately: the love rhombus is central to the B-story, but we see no significant change in dynamic, with conflict continuing to simmer rather than boil over. And that’s perhaps the catch-22 of both of these episodes—while groundwork needs to be laid for the final stretch of episodes, the episodes also can’t push too far ahead too quickly. “Catch-22” gets away with this, though, by focusing on Desmond’s perspective and using his emotional narrative to fuel the character dynamics heading into the final act.

Stray observations:

  • “Do you need me to make you a mixtape?”—Sawyer’s jokes aside, I struggle with the love rhombus in retrospect. It remains central to the series moving forward, but I never found it brought the show much narrative momentum, and always felt like it was underselling the characters. This is especially true of Kate, whose romantic whims don’t give the character a whole lot of credit here.
  • Desmond’s brief stay in the monastery now reminds me of Pushing Daisies’ monastery storyline, which was a bit more memorable. I barely remembered this story happened. These are definitely both episodes where the on-island storyline was what stuck with me.
  • Not really relevant to the episode, but I just started co-writer Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga after picking up Volume One on Free Comic Book Day. It’s great!
  • Speaking of retrospect, Hurley’s debate with Charlie regarding The Flash versus Superman is reshaped by The Flash’s presence on broadcast television and as part of the cinematic DC Comicsverse—as it stands, Hurley is repping a more “niche” hero in the debate, but now both will have their own films. In addition, guarantee those would have been Marvel superheroes if Lost were to be made today, because synergy.
  • “You two arguing over who’s your favorite Other?”—I mean, I could just quote Sawyer lines all day.
  • “If we don’t play every 108 minutes, the Island’s going to explode”—see?!
  • I know that the storm rolling in was CGI, likely, but it’s super effective when we’ve seen the rain in Desmond’s flash.
  • Myles has to go back: In addition to being too lazy to write a real review (this was the end of the semester, I was probably tired), 2007 Myles wanted people to know that he wasn’t taking the show’s bait as it relates to Penny in the flight suit—“The show still seems to think that Penny is in the suit, which she’s not. Stop trying to convince me of this, show.” 2007 Myles also noted that Eloise is in a photo on the Monk’s desk, which I can safely say I had forgotten and missed on this rewatch.

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“D.O.C.” (originally aired 04/25/2007)

Lost is undoubtedly an ensemble show, but the flashback structure often works against that in productive ways. As much as every episode features a large collection of characters, and requires us to think about how they fit into the larger framework of the series, the format still allows for heightened moments of tension or emotion surrounding one character in particular.

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In these two episodes, we see this unfold in climactic scenes that rely on us having focused on that character throughout the episode. You can imagine a different version of “Catch-22” that was focused on Charlie, for example, but then Desmond’s panicked belief that it was Penny in that flightsuit wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact. Similarly, it’s easy to imagine “D.O.C.” as a potential Juliet episode given her central role, but it’s Sun’s perspective that is most crucial, and therefore frames the events accordingly.

These were both episodes that I had forgotten on some level, with the flashbacks bearing the brunt of this memory lapse. I remembered the mysterious woman landing on the island, but I had forgotten how the episode used cross-cutting with the flashbacks to build out Desmond’s concern. Similarly, I had forgotten all about Sun’s flashback journey into Jin’s past, but I had distinct memories about Sun’s ultrasound, and her reaction when she learns that her baby was conceived on the island with Jin.

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This is logical given these are inherently supportive flashbacks as opposed to substantive ones. This distinction is unformed, but I would argue that substantive flashbacks offer key information about a character, whereas supportive flashbacks largely sketch out a thematically appropriate narrative that serves to amplify key scenes or simply reinforce the character’s perspective as central to the episode. The third season has seen fewer substantive flashbacks than past seasons, especially for characters like Sun that have had a significant number of flashbacks in the past. These flashbacks don’t exist to be remembered: they exist to help us connect to the rest of the episode, which is meant to be more memorable as a result. And given my vivid memory of Yunjin Kim’s performance as Sun finds out she is both likely to die and carrying Jin’s baby, I would say it worked.

How it works is interesting. The episode really pulls every part of the characters’ history into the foreground: we see Sun visiting Jin’s village in secret, we discover Sun was responsible for Jin’s promotion into the violent job that would nearly end their marriage, and we learn that Sun has been keeping more secrets from Jin than we realized. Not only was she hiding that she could speak English, slept with someone else, and knew Jin was infertile (which comes up on the Island here), but she has also been hiding the fact she has met his father before, and that Jin is the son of a prostitute. These secrets don’t fundamentally change their relationship, given that they are all linked to things we already knew, but it deepens the web: Jin lies to Sun about his father being dead, but his father lied to him about his mother being dead too, leaving Sun to pay her off to keep Jin from learning the truth. The thematic link is in Jin’s pride, and in Sun’s willingness to keep secrets to protect it, and in the ultrasound finally freeing her from the festering secret that turned her pregnancy into a ticking time bomb.

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Of course, now it’s a different kind of ticking time bomb. “D.O.C.” gives us our most concrete information yet about Juliet’s pregnancy research—nine women have died in her care, the Staff station existed as a hospice of sorts during their final days, and no woman has reached their third trimester. We also get confirmation of the island’s impact on sperm count, offering scientific—albeit magically-enhanced—evidence to support Jin’s claim to the baby. And yet the Juliet side of the story struggles a bit on rewatch, as her actions are very consciously framed as suspicious. Why did she need to put her hand over Sun’s mouth and kidnap her in the middle of the night? Why did she need to be so opaque as to where they were going? Why did the Staff station still have to be so murdery with the flickering lights? All of it is there to make us think that Juliet is leading Sun into a trap, which you know is wrong if you’ve already seen the show and remember what happens from this point on. The episode itself even works against this, with Juliet’s “I hate you” after finishing her tape-recorded message to Ben reinforcing that she still resents him and is still closer to a hero and a villain. But it’s tough to put yourself back in the moment with the Juliet character’s uncertainty as compared to another step in Sun’s emotional journey.

Sun’s ultrasound is the type of moment that resonates as part of the character’s larger arc, but the other major story is much more concerned about plot and mythology, as evidenced by where the episode ends. Mikhail’s surprise return is shocking, but the debate that starts—Charlie says to kill him, Desmond is willing to save him if he’ll save the mystery woman—returns to the age-old question about how these two sides co-exist. What’s new is the woman’s reveal, which is that they can’t be the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, because they found Oceanic Flight 815, and everyone aboard is dead.

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It’s one of Lost’s most troll-like act-outs, and it has its fair few of them. The producers obviously know that there is a purgatory theory, and Naomi’s response to Hurley steers right into it. Hurley’s “What?” is the audience’s “What?” and serves to raise big questions about the show’s premise long without offering any evidence with which to answer them. Why does Naomi believe this? Did we miss something in previous episodes that pointed to this? Why hasn’t this come up with the Others, who at least until recently had access to outside communications?

These aren’t the moments I remember most about Lost: Without spoiling things directly, these big cliffhanger moments—at least between episodes within the season, versus season finales—lose their impact when we have the context for them. But “D.O.C.” needs it in order to fully launch the show into one of its finest stretches of episodes, amplifying the character work and letting the plot share the spotlight.

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Stray observations:

  • Myles has to go back: I’ll open with this, because I love how both 2007 Myles and 2015 Myles were way too excited about this. After doing a pre-Buzzfeed list-style recap, in which 2007 Myles raised questions someone might have about the episode, he asked if there was any big reveals and discussed the biggest news of all: “YES. Okay, this blew my mind. You know how so many times people have these crazy adventures, and then they don’t actually TELL anyone else about it, so it’s like this big secret. Well, in this episode, they revealed that they DO talk. In fact, they knew a lot of details about [Mikhail]. Honestly, this is kind of mind blowing for me. They should do this more often.” I wrote an almost identical note watching the episode, forgetting I had written this. Like Present Myles, Like Past Myles.
  • I appreciate how much authority Sun has in her flashback here—it’s hard to remember that we met her as a submissive wife, and one senses the show would like to redo that if they had the chance.
  • The introduction of the satellite phone—which Mikhail tries to steal—is an important piece in the communications puzzle, which the show has built up really gradually with Rousseau’s signal, the Flame station, etc. It’s nice storytelling.
  • The show commits to the subtitles and the spoken Korean, but it was weird that Sun was paying Jin’s mother off in dollars as opposed to won, no?
  • Appreciate the visual callback to the scene of Jin walking down the dock as Sun visits his village—they didn’t need to use that location (she could have knocked on his door), but it’s a nice parallel drawn by director Fred Toye.
  • I also appreciate Jin kicking Mikhail’s ass.

Spoiler Station (only read if you’ve seen the entire series):

  • I had forgotten that Desmond so specifically doomed Charlie by allowing Mikhail to live, but it’s doubly tragic in context. The show really did an excellent job of building to Charlie’s fate and tying it to Desmond, and just thinking about “Greatest Hits” makes me emotional right now. Can’t wait to revisit in a few weeks’ time.
  • I’m reaching the point in the show where Jin and Sun’s fate is starting to linger—there’s just something about it that doesn’t sit right, and no amount of flashbacks or island events have convinced me it was a proper end. It feels meaninglessly tragic, something the show didn’t do too often.
  • The crashed plane that was found is a great example of something that gets answered with information we could have never known—if anyone actually put Flight 815 and Widmore together at this point, they’re psychic.

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Next week: Noel Murray rejoins me for the rest of the season, handling the final four episodes over the next four weeks. Join us for “The Brig” next Wednesday.