For me, Desmond's groan said it all. It came at the climax of last night's outing of Lost, prior to the awful choice the episode had been building toward: Should the time-scrambled Scot sacrifice Charlie's life for a chance at being reunited with Penelope, or should he put the Hobbity rocker's life and well-being ahead of his own self-interest and once again save him from predestined death? It was a damnable dilemma, and it gave rise to an existential growl congested with resignation, fury, self-loathing, and more. It spoke of being stuck between courage and cowardice, desire and duty, free will and fate — the clutch of tricky themes upon which Catch-22 was built. It also spoke on behalf of an episode heavy-laden with deep thoughts and ominous subtext encoded in Biblical and literary citations, comic book references, and perhaps the most provocative hidden clue in the show's history. It's enough to make your brain explode — or implode, as is the case on Lost. And it puts me in a catch-22 jackpot of my own: How far should I take this? Too far, and I risk generating unintended rancor toward a show that invites enough frustration as it is. Not far enough, and I risk not giving the show the engagement it deserves. What to do? What to freakin' do?
To be clear, this was one very amusing episode of Lost — that is, once you got past the opening sequence, in which Charlie tripped one of Rousseau's traps, took an arrow through the neck, gurgled up some blood and died in Desmond's arms while Hurley and Jin looked on in shell-shocked horror. I was totally taken aback by the violence but quickly recovered and realized that surely it must be a dream, which was sorta true — it was actually one of Desmond's precognitive flashes of the future, one that included glimpses of a blinking red beacon in the night sky, Jin (and then Hurley) pulling up a cable from the sand, and, most provocatively, a pair of legs dangling from a tree. Desmond's heart skipped — could this be Penelope, descending from the sky and bringing hope of rescue? Thus motivated to make sure that his vision would become a reality, Desmond began to round up all the participants that this scene needed. ''You been eating those mushrooms Jack warned us about?'' quipped Hurley when Desmond came to recruit him. Then the lumpy Lotto winner cottoned to the sitch: ''This is future crap, isn't it?''
It sure was. But the execution was far from shoddy. ''Catch 22'' did a fine job at capturing the experience of Desmond's flashes and clearly telling the audience how they worked. The former Hatchman explained that it was like ''a jigsaw puzzle, only I don't have all the pieces.'' Up until now, Desmond has been leveraging his inside knowledge of the infinite to frustrate Fate's obsessive interest in planting Charlie in Boone Hill. But this time, Desmond believed that saving the ex-junkie's hide would come at a price too precious to pay, namely a possible reunion with Penelope; apparently, if you alter one piece in this jigsaw picture, you risk changing the picture on the box. Hence, Desmond's double bind. Yeah, I know: kinda contrived — unless, of course, Desmond has good reason to believe Penelope would come looking for him. To wit: What if, in the new timeline that has been created by Desmond's quantum leap earlier this season, he jotted down as much of his Island experience as he could remember and arranged to have it sent to Penelope prior to embarking on his sailboat race?
Illogical or otherwise, I decided to roll with it, and so did Hurley, Jin, and Charlie, although none of them were hip to the awful twist involved in questing to find this newcomer from the sky. En route to Charlie's date with destiny, a fine time was had by all. We saw this fab four whistling the famous tune from The Bridge on the River Kwai, sharing ghosts stories around the campfire, debating who's faster, Superman or the Flash — comic gold. Desmond's vision began clicking into place, the necessary events falling like dominos. They found the Cable, the super-size power line extending from an underwater sonar system to the now-destroyed Dharma station the Flame. And after a helicopter crashed into the ocean, they saw the red beacon, falling from the sky. Penelope's here, thought Desmond. In the jungle, a backpack was found containing clue fodder for theorists: a satellite phone with a seemingly of-the-moment menu (but it's 2004 in the Lostverse, not 2007 — right?); a copy of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, the darkly comic anti-war novel that coined the titular phrase — except that the book was in Portuguese (connection: the guys in the last scene of last season, scanning for electro magnetic anomalies for Penelope — they were speaking Portuguese); and inside the book, a copy of the picture snapped of Desmond and Penelope prior to their breakup (but only one copy of that picture is supposed to exist, and Desmond has it — right?).
And then, the moment of decision arrived. Charlie tripped the wire, Rousseau's trap activated, and Desmond issued his agonizing groan: ''Arrrghhh — Charlie! Duck!'' And with that, Desmond...leapt at Charlie, knocked him down, saved his life, and according to Desmond's personal Theory of Relativity, the future shuffled its cards anew and recast the parachutist they soon found hanging from a tree — a young woman named Naomi, according to the press notes provided by ABC. She wasn't Penelope, but since she did mumble Desmond's name; maybe she works for Penelope and has been searching for him. Perhaps she'll regain consciousness and tell us more. (And having already seen next week's episode, I can tell you that she will. And that what she has to say is pretty...well, deadly.)
Why did Desmond ultimately choose Charlie over Penelope? Some illumination was provided by the flashback. Going into this episode, there was rampant speculation that we would learn about Desmond's days in the Scottish army. Instead, we got a story about Desmond's days at a wine-making monastery. Yup: It seems that prior to meeting Penelope, Desmond wanted to be a monk. He believed he had been given ''a calling.'' Reason to be dubious Number One: He received said calling after he woke up from a night of heavy drinking, in the middle of the street, with Brother Campbell standing above him. Reason to be dubious Number Two: Conveniently, said calling came one week prior to the day he was supposed to marry his then-girlfriend of six years, Ruth.
The early flashback scenes echoed with resonances to Lost episodes past. When Ruth accused Desmond of cold feet, I recalled how Jack struggled with jitters in the days before his wedding to Sarah. When Brother Campbell commended Desmond on completing his vow of silence as part of his monastery initiation, I recalled that Locke had a sentence of silence that was part of his reconnection process with the Island. And when Brother Campbell told Desmond that he was ''one of us,'' of course, I thought of last week's Juliet episode, entitled ''One of Us.'' All this in the wake of the most recent Desmond episode, in which his bid to get a respectable job with Penelope's father mirrored the almost-forgotten season 1 episode in which a smack-addled, post-Driveshaft Charlie tried to go straight by working for his girlfriend's Dad. Weird how this one character mirrors and twins a broad swath of others, from Jack to Locke to Charlie. Worth a future Doc Jensen theory, perhaps.
It's clear from the flashbacks that from an early age, Desmond has been driven by a desire for belonging and validation. At the same time, he also suffers from a profound case of ''I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For''-itus. I'd love to know in a future episode what role Desmond's early life played in the formation of this personality; in his last episode, we were told he was left to raise his bothers after the death of his father. What happened there? (And why do I have a hunch that the Lost-cited book The Brothers Karamazov — about four brothers and a dead dad — might have something to do with it?). Whatever the cause of his restlessness, Desmond seems chronically incapable of staying engaged, on mission, committed, for a prolonged period of time before something in him breaks down and spurs him elsewhere, usually into the bottom of a bottle. The lesson that Brother Campbell believed he needed to learn was the value of personal sacrifice, a lesson which the Liam Neeson sound-alike illustrated for Desmond by citing the famous Biblical story in which God asked Abraham to kill his son Isaac as an offering. Abraham was torn, but was willing to do it — and at the last second, got a deus ex machina reprieve from the Lord himself. Talk about mirroring and symmetry: You can find this Biblical catch-22 in...Genesis, chapter 22.
In the end, Desmond couldn't cut it as a monk. The God/Abraham story bugged him, and besides, he had serious doubts about his own character. And so it was that he got himself fired from the monastery/winery after being caught sampling the product. But Brother Campbell saw the bigger picture, too; he told Desmond that he was surely being called to something, but it definitely wasn't monkhood. Of course, we were left to question Brother Campbell's own character thanks to a blink-and-you-miss-it Easter egg of monumental significance. There, on Campbell's desk, was a picture of him and the woman we know as Ms. Hawking — the creepy antique-store lady with the ouroboros pin (a snake chasing its own tail) who, in the last Desmond ep, seemed to know all about his life, past, present, and Island future. What's the connection between the two? Has Desmond's life been orchestrated and manipulated from the very beginning? What was Campbell's true agenda for bringing Desmond into the monastic fold — to simply impress upon him a lesson about sacrificing his self-interest for the sake of other people, the greater good, or the higher power...
...or was it to facilitate his meet-cute introduction to none other than Penelope Widmore? Turned out that her father is/was a rather generous customer/supporter of the winery/monastery. Which begs the question: How much does Papa Widmore really know about Desmond? Is there some ''Secret Order of the Ouroboros'' at work, shaping the destiny of the world?
Speaking of snakes, I suppose we should talk about Sawyer and Kate playing beach blanket bingo, which I'm sure pleased all the SawKat 'shippers out there. It was exactly the kind of reconnection the con man has been aching for since the Hydra Station hanky-panky — especially after eyeballing Kate in her thong, a rousing sight which led to the hilarious request for some ''afternoon delight,'' and even more hilarious, his offer of making a mix tape to get it. However, Sawyer would eventually learn that Kate's late-night booty call might not have been all about him; earlier that evening, she had flirted with Jack to no avail, her oatmeal spoon seduction apparently not enough to entice the good doctor away from Juliet. This revelation put Sawyer in a double bind of his own: At what price nooky? Does Kate really dig him — or is he merely a consolation prize? And does he really want to know? In the end, he risked rejection and asked her to make sure she knows her own heart, and made his own feelings perfectly clear by giving her the next best thing to a mix tape he could find (or steal) on the beach: Bernard's copy of Phil Collins' greatest hits. (Bernard! He lives!)
Now: If I were to stop there, I would have offered you a perfectly serviceable recap of ''Catch 22,'' minus some details here and there. (Don't flame me about Jack's tattoos — I asked the producers about it, and they claim they know nothing about any new arm art on the guy.) In the end, the episode was an intriguing, clever, altogether entertaining outing of Lost that didn't necessarily offer much in the way of answers or offer the same mythic wallop as last week's Juliet episode, but it did provide some revealing insights into Desmond and began to set the stage for the endgame of the season. We need not take it any further.
And yet, we could. We could take it wayyy further. For example:
The Superman/Flash Debate Could this be a clue that foreshadows future events or illuminates past mythology? Since the early '60s, Superman and the Flash have raced each other several times for charity's sake — and to paraphrase Jack's line from last night, ''sooner or later, something always goes wrong.'' In the first race, sinister crime syndicates kidnapped the Flash during the race and replaced him with an impostor. (I'm telling you: Someone — Jack, Locke, Charlie, Desmond, someone — ain't who they currently claim to be on this show. I know it!) In the second race, Superman and the Flash raced to ''the end of the universe,'' only to learn that it was an elaborate trap (''a long con,'' per Lost) staged by super-villains hell-bent on killing the Flash. (Poor Flash! He's like the Charlie of superheroes!) Speaking of the end of the universe...
Rousseau's arrows; Ms. Hawking and her ouroboros; and Desmond's recurring commitment issues There is a notion in mythology and philosophy dating back to ancient Greece and Egypt known as eternal return, or what Friedrich Nietzsche called eternal recurrence. The idea: Time isn't linear, but cyclical (symbolized by the ouroboros), and everything and everyone essentially repeats the dramatic arc of their lives, over and over again, albeit in different ways and in different forms. For example: Desmond's broken relationship with Ruth + Desmond's broken relationship with Penelope + Desmond's catchphrase ''See you in another life, brother!'' = eternal recurrence. But here's where it gets interesting. It seems that recent theories about the birth and inevitable death of the universe allow for the possibility of time travel and various forms of ''eternal returns.'' These are complex ideas — ''Big Crunch,'' ''Time Reversal,'' and other notions advanced by Lost-cited egghead Stephen Hawking — and I'm not even going to try to summarize them. But they all utilize a few core concepts, including what physicists refer to as ''the arrows of time.'' Look 'em up.
The Bridge on the River Kwai and Catch-22 Actually, I have never seen the former, and never read the latter. But did you know that the famous whistling tune from Kwai actually had lyrics back in the day? It's true. Unfortunately, we can't print them, because they're all about...Hitler's testicles. Specifically, how Hitler and all his right-hand men either had only one testicle or no testicles at all. I could apply this to Ben and the Others, but in the name of good taste, let us note that Kwai and Catch-22 both share similar themes concerning the madness of war, and move on to...
The noodle cooker: Ruth and Naomi In ''Catch 22,'' the characters Ruth and Naomi have nothing to do with each other. But in The Bible, they are the stars of the Book of Ruth. Well, it just so happens that the book right before Ruth is the Book of Judges. The very last story in the Book of Judges is the story of a war among the tribes of Israel. The bad guy in this story: the Tribe of Benjamin. The war started over a murder that the other tribes believed needed to be avenged; it ended with the near-obliteration (''The Purge,'' perhaps?) of the Benjaminites. Here's where it gets creepy: In the aftermath, the people of Israel felt badly about wiping out Benjamin's people. So they decided to repopulate his tribe by forcing the women from another city to join the tribe of Benjamin. You know: to make babies and stuff.
What does this foreshadow for Lost? I think it means that war is coming to the beach. Castaways vs. Others. Survival of the species. At long last: Lord of the Flies time, people.
Or, to quote forebodingly from the bard himself, Phil Collins:
I can feel it coming in the air tonight...
(That was a menacing guitar sound.)
I have next week off. See you in two.
And PS: Thanks to all for your well wishes for my wife and I. We were/are very moved, very appreciative. Next time we speak, we'll have news for you.