DEAD LIKE ME? We find out more about Miles' powers, like the fact that it's corpse-dependent, and that he doesn't actually hear the dead speak
By Jeff Jensen
''You need a story to displace a story. Metaphors and stories are far more potent (alas) than ideas; they are also easier to remember and more fun to read.'' — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
''That was Luke's attitude, too. In 'Empire', when he found out Vader was his father, instead of putting away his light saber and talking about it, he overreacted and got his hand cut off. I mean, they worked it out eventually. But at what cost? The Death Star was destroyed, Boba Fett got eaten by the Sarlacc, and everyone got The Ewoks. It all could have been avoided if they had just, you know, communicated. Because let's face it: Ewoks suck, dude.'' — Hurley
We can talk about the deep ideas in ''Some Like It Hoth'' — the theme of regret; the logic of causality; the legalities of time travel screenwriting — but it's so much easier and certainly far more fun to let Hurley's vision of an enhanced, common sense Star Wars do the work for us. (See above quote — the fun, not-pretentious one.) The hairy geek-hero of Lost was flicking at a certain subset of irrational Star Wars zealotry that regards the cutesy teddy bears of Return of the Jedi the way the Others view Dharma: A heretical corrupting element that needs to be purged. Still, let's think through the reasoning behind Hurley's idealistic revisionism, because it leads to some interesting implications. Let's say Hurley really could leap back in time and change The Empire Strikes Back so that Luke and Vader hugged their s--- out, thus sparing us that abomination of Endor in the weak-sauce third chapter. (Sorry: ''Chapter VI'') Can we be certain that his replacement story would really be all that better? Might we lose much more than what would be gained? After all, the Star Wars that we know — warts and Ewoks and all — was the veritable big bang of our current Geek Pop Golden Age. If you mess with Mr. Lucas' Opus, you risk collapsing a long line of aint-it-cool dominos influenced by Star Wars...including Lost itself. And if you wipe out Lost, you wipe out...me! Doc Jensen! And is that really a price worth paying for a world without Ewoks? As Luke Skywalker said upon seeing Obi-Won POOF! into the Force: Nooooooooooooooooo!
To the point: For most of Lost's quantum leaping fifth season, the show has meditated on the idea of changing the past for the sake of a better future. And for the past several episodes, we've gotten stories that have dealt with the notion that personal and collective histories can be boiled down to defining moments — Sayid shooting Ben; Kate and Sawyer bringing Ben to the Others; Ben defying Charles Widmore and swiping Baby Alex. These stories have invited both the characters and the audience to wonder: What might happen if those defining moments were tweaked, altered, or removed altogether? Lost has given us two possible answers. Option A: The question is irrelevant. History is fixed. ''Whatever happened, happened,'' in the words of Daniel Faraday, back on the scene as of last night, now a member of Dharma's ominously clad Black Swan inner circle. (''Long time no see,'' he quipped in the closing moment of 'Hoth', speaking also to legions of Faradasiacs who've been missing him since ''LaFleur.'') Option B: History is being altered. The castaways' presence in the Dharma past is creating new history that is displacing and replacing old history. A few episodes ago, Hurley firmly adopted the latter position, and last night, we may have seen that perspective inspire a big, bold idea. No, not rewriting The Empire Strikes Back. I'm talking about the idea that I saw flickering behind his eyes as he beheld the Dharma drones building the Swan for the Dharma Alphas. ''They're building our hatch — the one that crashed our plane,'' he said to Miles, Translation: If only someone would stop those Dharma dudes from finishing that thing, we'd create a time paradox that will change everything. Yeah! It's like 'Star Wars'! The Hatch is our Death Star, and if we castaway rebels can just find a way to fire two photon torpedoes into its ventilation shaft — figuratively speaking — we'll be liberated from the tyranny of the Island, and me and my friends (who won't be friends anymore because in the subsequent time reboot I probably won't know them) will live happily ever after....
Unless they don't. Because after all, who's to say Fate's replacement story would really be any better? What gaineth a man if he changes his crappy world, only to make a crappier one in the process?
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN ACCIDENTAL BLACK SWAN.
Before we start processing the episode, a word about the latest development in Dharma fashions. Those new Vader-black jumpsuits that Radzinsky, Faraday and The Swan laborers were sporting? Surely they must have be a coded allusion to The Black Swan: The Impact of The Highly Improbable. In his book, Nassim Nicholas Taleb speaks of ''black swan events'' — catastrophes and occurrences that invalidate widely held assumptions. Taleb's terminology was inspired by the discovery of black swans in Australia. (Date unknown.) Up until then, it was believed that all swans were white, so learning otherwise was a shocking game-changer. Put another way, every episode of Lost is a ''black swan event'' for Doc Jensen, as they always invalidate the theory he had just concocted the week before. ☺
Taleb's concept of black swan events is marked by two characteristics: (1) They come as a total surprise to people, even though upon closer inspection, they really shouldn't; (2) They have massive consequences. A real-life example: 9-11. One of the major points of Taleb's book is to ask people to reconsider how we understand and deal with ''black swan events'' in our culture and in our personal lives. His deep thoughts synch up with some major Lost themes — but we'll dig deeper into that another time. For now, this: Remember what the orientation film told us about Station 3: The Swan — how ''an incident'' shortly after the Hatch's construction radically transformed its function. ''The Incident'' = ''Black Swan Event.'' Did Lost give us black swans last night in order to foreshadow ''the incident'' that is to come? And might ''the incident'' have time-changing ramifications?
Luke: He knew my father?
Uncle Owen: I told you to forget it.
''Some Like It Hoth'' was a light and lively and often LOL outing. Delivering on the promise of the title, it was also a pretty clever Star Wars homage that saw Hurley playing Chewbacca to Miles' Han Solo as they ferried corpses, ham and cheese sandwiches, and cranky physicists in their flower power Millennium Falcon. But according to the flashbacks, which belonged to Straume, the psychic hustler wasn't a natural-born rogue. In fact, a long time ago, in a wormhole far, far away, Miles could have been a Jedi. Who knows what powers he could have gained had he been weaned longer on the unique electromagnetic force of Broken Hyperdrive Island. Yep, Miles was/is indeed the son of Dr. Pierre Chang, as most of us suspected. But his father drove his mother away from the Island when he was but a babe, and so Miles grew up in the desert of suburban Los Angeles, saddled with angry father issues like so many other Lost souls. (BTW: I'm guessing Straume is his mother's maiden name.)
Miles the Boy: Comes into his can-speak-with-dead-people powers around the age of 5 and is immediately and deeply confused and terrified. Miles the Teenager: Calloused, angry, and heavily pierced. (Maybe it was for the best he didn't go through his rebel phase on the Island: If Daddy made him sweep the Hatch for allowance, his studs might have shot through brain like poor Alvarez's fillings.) At some point, Miles became estranged from his mother, but came to her on her deathbed to get some answers she had long denied him: ''I need you tell me why I'm this way. How I do the things I do? And I need to know why you never talk about my father.'' Mom was clearly trying to shake him off. ''It doesn't matter. He's dead. Your father kicked us out when you were just a baby. He didn't want anything to do with us. The less you knew about him, the better.'' When Miles pressed her on where he could find his father's body, her words said ''Someplace you can never go'' (Cut to: He's totally going there) but her tone said ''CAN'T YOU TAKE A HINT, YOU FREAKIN' PIN-CUSHION?! And cut your hair.'' I got an Uncle Owen vibe from her, like she wasn't telling Miles the whole truth, either because she didn't know the whole truth or had been sworn to withhold it. My guess is that Dr. Chang booted his wife and kid off the Island because he's going to learn about future events like the Purge. The trippy prospect to consider, courtesy of time travel dramatics, is if Adult Miles is the one who spills the beans to his father, making him complicit in causing his own crap life.
Han: ''Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, princess. I'm in it for the money.''
Miles the Adult: A sardonic survivor, a hustler with a heart of gold — just like a certain space smuggler we know. We learned from his attempt at a Crossing Over séance on behalf of a bereaved father that Miles' powers are corpse-dependent; he can't commune with the cremated. I believe that's significant — something to investigate for next week's Doc Jensen column. We saw Miles' recruitment into the freighter folk fold by Naomi, she of the parachute, the Portuguese Catch-22, the riddle sister, and the bracelet. She took Miles to a closed restaurant and asked him to pull info out of a dead guy. ''His name's Felix,'' Miles reported. ''He was on his way to deliver something to a guy Widmore.... A bunch of papers, photos, pictures of empty graves...a purchase order for an old airplane.''
Now, if you recall, last season we had that business about an Oceanic 815 cover-up, with a plane loaded with corpses found at the bottom of the ocean. In ''Meet Kevin Johnson,'' Mr. Friendly showed Michael all sorts of stuff — including photos of an exhumed cemetery — that he claimed was proof that Charles Widmore was behind the hoax wreckage. So: Did Big Tom kill Felix and swipe his stuff? Or is it possible that Charles Widmore wasn't behind Oceanic 815 cover-up at all, that it was actually Ben who was behind it, and that Felix was killed to prevent him from reporting the scheme to Widmore?
Miles proved his abilities, then got the pitch: Naomi needed him on the Island so he could ask all its dead people where to find the man who killed them, i.e., Ben. Straume was having none of it. ''As much as hunting down a mass murderer sounds really safe, I'm going to pass.'' Then he heard the salary. $1.6 million. ''When do we leave?''
That night, Miles was abducted en medias fish taco by goons led by a guy named Bram, the same gung-ho creep who was seen assisting Ilana's Hydra Station take-over last episode. With a twinkle in his eye and a knowing grin that struck me as Keamy-esque — dangerous with a dash of empathy — Bram asked Miles to drop out of Widmore's Island strike force and join their secret cell. ''Do you know what lies in the shadow of the statue?'' asked Bram, repeating Ilana's secret-handshake riddle from last episode. Miles: Nope. ''Then you're not ready to go,'' Bram said, all spiritual guru/cult leader sensitive. He then offered Miles answers to all his personal mythological mysteries — including info about his father — if he joined them. Miles angrily asked for $3.2 million instead — double Naomi's salary. (Now we know where that figure came from.) Bram shook his head like some condescending Yoda. ''We're not paying you a thing. All the money in the world isn't going to fill that empty hole inside you Miles.'' Miles' sarcastic retort: ''Yeah, that's sad.'' Or, put another way: F--- you, too, Dr. Phil. Then Miles got dumped in an alley and Bram got really creepy. ''You're playing for the wrong team,'' he mocked. Miles: ''What team is that?'' Bram, beaming: ''The one that's going to win.'' (Shades of: Charles Widmore telling Locke, ''There's a war coming, John. And if you're not in on it when it does, the wrong side is going to win.'')
Okay, I'll bite: Who the hell are these people? Ben's back-up plan? Acolytes of Eloise? A doomsday death cult? A doomsday resurrection cult perhaps? Do they expect a giant spaceship to arrive on the Island and beam them up and take them home? Are they going to dig up Jughead and then join hands and then start chanting ''May the Blessings of the Bomb Almighty, and the Fellowship of the Holy Fallout, descend upon us all'' before some dying castaway hero blows them all up with his or her final breath? (A little Beneath the Planet of the Apes for you there.) What? Tell me! Amazing that this show can still give me new mysteries to capture my imagination.
C3PO: ''Secret mission? What plans? What are you talking about?''
The Island, circa 1977: Miles Straume was tasked two different covert operations. Neither went well, one more so than the other. First: Sawyer asked him to erase the security camera videotape showing him and Kate bringing Young Ben to Richard Alpert. Miles tried but couldn't finish the job because he was interrupted by Horace Goodspeed, who brought him into ''the circle of trust'' and charged him with his second black op: delivering ''a package'' to Sector 344. ''Isn't that Hostile territory?'' Miles asked nervously. Horace's wry reply: ''Welcome to the circle of trust.'' Miles managed to make the run while avoiding any Imperial entanglements — i.e., clashing with the Others — and upon arriving found Radzinsky sporting a black jumpsuit adorned with the logo of the Swan. Ominous. Even more so when Miles learned his package contained a body bag. Its intended occupant: the aforementioned Alvarez, a Dharma drone whose filling became self-inflicted bullets courtesy of the electromagnetic energy at the Swan site. (Miles had to learn this himself, using his powers. ''Okay, so what really happened,'' he quizzed. Funny. And later, when he shared this info with Hurley, Miles seemed touched by how Alvarez's final thoughts were of a woman named Andrea. Nice.)
Miles was then directed to take the corpse to Dr. Chang — and reluctantly agreed to a traveling companion in the form of Hurley, who wanted to bum a ride out to the Orchid to deliver lunch to the construction crew. Hurley's rationale for carpooling fell apart on him — ''It'll help with global warming. Which hasn't happened yet.'' — but he wasn't going to take no for an answer. And so their adventure began.
We got a taste of the pair's bickering R2D2/C3PO-Jack Lemmon/Tony Curtis chemistry during their time travel debate in ''Whatever Happened, Happened;'' we got a heaping platter of it here. (Note to anyone younger than 20: Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis starred in the comedy classic Some Like It Hot from 1959. And now you know where the rest of the title comes form.) Hurley tried to bond with Miles over their respective abilities to speak with the dead, but snooty Straume believed his power was more impressively nuanced. ''You're just jealous my power is cooler than yours,'' Hurley replied. CONSPICUOUS DETAIL — BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Last season, when Ghost Charlie visited Hurley at the mental hospital, he was sporting a cool T-shirt with a scary-looking fish on it. Did you catch the image on Miles' flashback T-shirt? A shark. Interesting that the episode would go out of its way to make a distinction between Miles and Hurley — and then include a detail that links Miles and Charlie. Now, assuming the Miles/Hurley thing wasn't just pure comedy (which it probably was) and that the Miles/Charlie thing wasn't just a coincidence (which it probably was), then what exactly was Lost trying to imply? Could it be that one of Talks-To-Dead-People guys can do what they do because one of them is actually (gulp) dead himself? If this was The Sixth Sense, then which one was Bruce Willis and which one was Haley Joel Osment?
Moving on. At The Orchid, Dr. Chang took possession of Dead Alvarez. My theory? No brainer here. He's going to use the corpse in his time travel experiments. ''The guy from the movies'' was none too pleased to see that Miles had brought Hurley with him, and his rebuke set the stage for one of the episode's most sophisticated dramatic ideas, so much so that it has taken me two hours to figure out how to write the next couple sentences. I'm still not sure I'm getting this right, but here it is: Miles responded to Chang's tough-to-please domineering persona as his son, not as his employee. It was as if Miles, in this brief professional encounter with Chang, was getting to experience — maybe even wanted to experience — the childhood he never got. Does this make sense? Dammit, kids, I'm a quack doctor, not a real one! I'm an expert in pop culture trivia, not psychology!
Because any Star Wars homage worth its salt needs its own bantha poodoo joke, we got this from Chang as he swore Hurley to secrecy about Dead Alvarez: ''How do you feel about polar bear feces? Because if you breath one word of this, I'll have you shipped to Hydra Island so you could weigh turds for their ridiculous experiments.''
HURLEY: Dude, that guy is a total douche.
MILES: That douche is my dad.
I liked the blasé way Miles expanded on the matter. ''Third day I was here, I was on line in the cafeteria and my mother got in line behind me. That was my fist clue.'' Hurley was stunned, then had a comic field day with the ramifications of Adult Miles living in the same time and the same place as his infant self, which brought him to this classic one-liner: ''Well, maybe he'll let you hold Baby You or you can change your own diaper.''
And I really dug the whole business of Hurley replicating The Empire Strikes Back screenplay (''with a couple of improvements'' — I'd love to know what those are!) in his (Pearl Station) notebook. I'm guessing Hurley wasn't the best student in school. ''How do you spell 'bounty hunter?''' he asked Miles. (I found that pretty hard to swallow, actually.) And then there was this classic exchange after Miles seized the notebook and began reading from it:
MILES: '''Exterior Hoth — a little spy robot thingie zips through the atmosphere and crashes into the snowy planet below. Then Chewbacca shows up and blasts it away with his crossbow laser. He shakes his fury fist to the sky in triumph. Chewbacca: 'Rarrrrrrrrr.'''
HURLEY: '''Furry.' It's...'furry fist.'''
If you're lacking in Star Wars savvy, allow me to point out that Hurley has altered this key scene from Empire to make Chewbacca, not Han Solo, the hero of the moment. Guess we know who Hurley identifies with, don't we? Did he seriously intend to mail it to Lucasfilm and usurp screenplay credit from Leigh Bracket and Lawrence Kasdan? What I'm hoping is that ABC will publish ''Hurley's Dharma Diary,'' which could include his version of Empire, written in his distinctive Hurley speak. Dude, I would so buy that.
Han: ''Laugh it up, fuzzball.''
I think my favorite scene of the night — after the moment of forlorn despair on Hurley's face as he watched the Dharma drones hammer "the numbers" into the Hatch's lid like nails in a coffin — was the moment in the Dharma bus when Hurley tried to facilitate the start of a father-son relationship between Miles and Chang. ''We should all get together for a beer sometime. How awesome would that be?'' Hurley seemed to be simultaneously (A) messing with Miles; (B) trying to do a good deed; (C) breaking Miles' fatalistic bad attitude. In that latter regard, ''Some Like It Hoth'' was very similar to the Hurley-centric season 3 episode ''Tricia Tanaka Is Dead,'' when another adventure involving a Dharma bus, a corpse, and eight track tapes saw Hurley himself move from profound pessimism to born again optimism. Indeed, what made this Yet Another Episode About A Guy With Daddy Issues episode different and unique was how we saw another Lost character directly and actively participate in the processing of those issues. We don't usually see that on Lost. Ever. Which has been part of the point. One of the season's big themes has been the characters getting intimate and getting involved in the redemption project of their lives. For most of the series, they've been islands unto themselves; now they are building bridges. I like that. It puts a dynamic, spiritual spin on the whole ''Live together, die alone'' thing. Honestly, I found the episode's stated conclusions — Hurley's 'you gotta communicate' speech; Miles' 'you shoulda told your son you loved him while you had the chance' chastisement — to be a little trite. But what was more powerful and inspiring was seeing two characters ''get into each others' business,'' to use Miles' expression. It was messy and it was awkward but in the end you got the sense that the journey had brought Miles to the precipice of profound change. Will he dare to make the most of this second chance at having a real relationship with his father? And if he's successful, will it be because that reconciliation was always supposed to happen — or is this new history, displacing old? An act of forgiveness, changing the world — cool. Anyway, time will tell. Time is also running out — three more episodes left in the season! — so maybe he better hurry it up, too.
''FOR LUCK.'' Yes, Kate's heart was in the right place, trying to buck up despondent Roger Linus by sharing a beer with him and giving him some ''Don't give up hope'' and ''I'm sure things are going to work out'' sentiments. It was kinda like Princess Leia giving Luke those romantic smooches in Star Wars and Empire — which is to say, it was a well-meaning gesture that totally sent the wrong message. Instead of comforting Roger, it appears she may have turned Ben's increasingly unhinged daddy into a paranoid loon that's about to blow the castaways' cover. Of course, a certain un-erased videotape ain't going to help their cause, either...
''THESE AREN'T THE DROIDS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.'' How'd you like Jack's attempt to bully Roger into not reporting his suspicious encounter with Kate? Jedi knight-wannabe Jack was totally trying his own version of an Obi-Wan mind trick, but my hunch is that it's totally going to backfire. Jack has been watching and waiting for his moment to play the hero — and I don't think that was it. And yes, I did see the ancient Egyptian history lesson on the chalkboard — but I wonder if the more conspicuous part of that whole thing was Jack slowly, systematically erasing it. A pretty nice metaphor for all y'all who subscribe to the Time Is Changing theory.
''THIS DEAL KEEPS GETTING WORSE AND WORSE ALL THE TIME.'' Watching Sawyer scramble to preserve the crumbling lie of his blissful Dharmaville existence is kinda like watching Lando Calrissian watching his Cloud-City good thing blow up right before his eyes. Punching out Phil felt to me like resignation. Sawyer knows it's over. Or, in the words of Juliet: ''Well...here we go.''
Okay, what do you guys think? Love all the 'Star Wars' references? Happy about Faraday's return?