Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

May 3, 2011

Back to the Island 1.16 – Homecoming

Filed under: back to the island,political sniping — lexifab @ 4:51 pm

I totally forgot that yesterday was Monday. I got distracted by all the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, I guess. I don’t have much to say about that, except that I hope it’s the psychological blow to Al-Qaeda’s recruitment prospects that some analysts are suggesting.

I tell you ope thing, though, this whole bin Laden takedown puts Obama’s birth certificate comment from late last week – “We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do” –  in a whole new context. Hell of a straight face on that man, considering the operation must have been well underway at that point.  I’d say Obama’s second term is looking a lot more likely than it did a week ago.

Back to the Island 1.16 – Homecoming

“How nice it must be not to be involved in the bloody insanity that surrounds us at every turn.” – Charlie Pace

Summary: Charlie wakes to find the camp in the sort of tizzy commotion you get when a large group of actors are given very loose direction. Locke and Boone have brought Claire in from the jungle. Doctor Jack administers 50 cc’s of water – he’s a trained surgeon, don’t you know – and brings her around. “Who are you people?” she screeches, heralding the arrival of the dreaded but not entirely unexpected amnesia plotline. Woah, that was close – they almost forgot to resort to one of the most overused and reviled cliches in television drama. Phew! (Sayyid helpfully hangs a lantern on the cliche a few minutes later by pointing out how rare real amnesia is, which at least shows that the writer knows he is treading on thin ice and asking for a little trust).

Charlie and Claire bond again while the rest of the castaways speculate wildly. Sayyid doubts that pregnant little Aussie Claire could have easily escaped from strapping Canadian woodsman Ethan, speculating that he must have let her go. Charlie denounces the theory as preposterous. He’s off back to the caves to comfort Claire when a slingshot takes out Jin, his travelling companion. It’s Ethan, face covered in Claire-sized scratch marks, who threatens to kill one of the survivors every day until Claire is returned to him. When Charlie reveals this to Locke and Jack, Locke wants to keep a lid on it and not hand the advantage to Ethan.

Both camps go into lockdown, with sentries and flaming torches and tripwire alarms and stern, watchful expressions. Nobody’s going to get murdered on Boone’s watch – oh, no, wait, somebody did. Scott (not Steve) has been brutally beaten to death by Aquaman, or at least someone who swam in. One quick funeral scene later, Claire is getting the stinkeye from everyone at the caves who expects their number to be the next one up because of her. Realising that Ethan’s going to keep his promise of daily murders unless someone evens the odds, Jack reveals to Locke that he has the Marshall’s guns. Jack, Locke and Sayyid hatch a plan to use Claire as bait to manoeuvre Ethan into a trap. Charlie protests, but when Claire volunteers he demands to come along. The big boys turn down his even-tempered and cool-headed offer and ask Sawyer to play instead. Sawyer already has a gun (he helpfully reminds us that he shot a polar bear with it, at which Jack sarcastically observes that he also shot the Marshall at point blank range and missed). Sawyer nominates Kate as the fifth shooter.

A clearly terrified Claire is sent out in the pouring rain with the assurance that she is surrounded on all sides. There is no chance whatsoever of anyone getting hurt in a crossfire with that deployment pattern. Ethan shows up looking like a feral predator and gives chase. Jack, looking for payback after the arse-kicking Ethan handed him last time they met, brings Ethan down with a flying intercept tackle. Muddy scuffles ensue as the other shooters close in, but Jack’s got this one. Ethan gets his daylights forcibly removed. There’s still some fight in him though, and he looks like he might be contemplating a move when Charlie appears from nowhere and empties Jack’s discarded pistol straight into Ethan’s chest. Fight ends.

Charlie tells Jack he did it for Claire and not just to be taken seriously by all the fitter and taller people on the Island. Claire tells Charlie she remembers the imaginary peanut butter and that just maybe she trusts him a little bit.

Flashback: During the hiatus that follows Charlie’s brother Liam’s departure from DriveShaft, Charlie falls in with Tommy, a junkie, who steers him towards rich girl Lucy with a plan to steal something valuable. Charlie turns on the charm and Lucy is taken, introducing him to her father. It comes out that the band is in disarray and that Charlie is broke. Lucy’s father offers him a job selling photocopiers and Charlie takes it. Tommy is aggrieved and withdraws Charlie’s supply of smack. Charlie gets the jitters and steals one of the father’s antique gewgaws before going on to magnificently screw up the job. He tries to explain to Lucy that he took the job because he wanted her to think he could look after her. She replies with understandable venom that he will never look after anyone.

Highlights: From the moment Ethan appears and makes his threat – and then follows through like a jungle-ninja – ‘Homecoming’ is a tight, tense little thriller that builds implacably to the climactic fistfight and sudden twist shooting. It’s probably the first episode where the need to employ the flashback gimmick seems to get in the way, although from a pacing point of view the tension would probably be unsustainable without the Charlie backstory to break it up.

There’s no real getting away from the fact that – apart from an amusing and gratuitous reference to “The Office” – the flashback story is a dog. The relationship between Charlie and Lucy is too lightly sketched to believe or invest in, Lucy’s plummy English widower-father is a shameless knockoff of Mr Sheffield  from The Nanny, Charlie’s betrayal looks more like a random impulse than an act of desperation and even he can’t think of a convincing explanation for his conduct. It doesn’t quite undermine his character altogether, but it does nothing to build on it either. The staging of the comedic copier demonstration scene was awkward and neither funny nor cringeworthy. It’s hard to guess which one it was intended to be.

I give props to the sound effects editor in the scene when Ethan attacks Jin with his sling. The rhythmic whooshing sound growing in pitch and frequency is an outstanding audial moment. I don’t usually notice non-visual effects, so I found this one impressive.

Themes: I just want to point out that in the scene when Charlie is revealing Ethan’s threat to Locke and Jack, the former is wearing a white shirt and the latter is in black. It’s a little too clearly framed to be a coincidental wardrobe choice, but it is interesting to speculate that perhaps the producers had not decided at this point which side of the presumed faceoff between good and evil the characters would represent. Or, I guess it could just be a coincidental wardrobe choice.

Verdict: The backstory is pretty uninteresting: Charlie was a junkie who had a shot at going straight with a good woman and he dropped the ball. Uh huh. We learn nothing that we could not have guessed about Charlie. Heroin addicts do tend to disappoint those around them after all. Anyone who thinks that a scene built around a malfunctioning photocopier is riveting drama has probably been awake just a little too long. It’s possible they were aiming for the exquisite awkwardness of a scene from cringe comedy like “The Office”, but I think basically they just it a bit wrong.

The Island story is exciting though. Scott’s very sudden murder by Ethan, more force of nature than human presence in this episode, cranks up the tension level towards the end of the second act, setting up a climax where the possibility of a regular character dying seems credible. It’s an interesting crossroad moment for Charlie, who goes from being more often than not lumped in with Hurley as a go-to character for lighthearted comedy relief to being a not-especially-reluctant killer. I don’t particularly recall how Charlie’s character evolved in the wake of Ethan’s murder, so I will be watching it very closely from here on.

‘Homecoming’ isn’t great, if I’m honest. It is well directed and I love the action stuff that goes on on the Island, but the flashback is weak and unengaging. Claire manages to hobble the pace of most of her scenes, but to be fair to Emilie de Ravin it is hard to imagine how she could have made more of her amnesia subplot. It contains a couple of my favourite scenes in the first season, both of them surprise murders (Scott’s and Ethan’s) – which no doubt reveals much about me – but ultimately these strengths are held back by some of the ballast material. Six out of ten.

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