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

May 14, 2011

Back to the Island 1.19 – Numbers

Filed under: back to the island,geekery — lexifab @ 1:35 am

I’m making the mistake of staying up too late again tonight, but at least I’m feeling productive while I’m at it. I’ve polished off another review, I’ve started work on a new short story and I’ve just watched the fourth episode of the (very, very good) television mini-series adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Game of Thrones’ (the first novel in his somewhat protracted fantasy epic ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, which I’ve heard hilariously and not unfairly described as War of the Roses fanfic).

I’m a bit of a fan of ASoIaF, though I can certainly see why others might not be. I like the sprawl of the narrative, I like the way Martin builds his world with a real sense of history, and I love his characters. Even though they are a bitter and malignant pack of utter bastards. I think what I like best is that the plot is driven along by blinkered and distrustful characters who make absolutely terrible, self-destructive decisions for what seem like perfectly rational reasons. My (perhaps cynical) sense of many great historical events is that they are directed as much by pettiness, willful stupidity and blind ignorance as they are by courageous or determined decision-makers. Martin captures this sense perfectly, which puts these stories right in my sweet spot [1]. His ability to craft the interactions of his characters and spin plot from that is something I need to work on in my own writing [2].

Anyway, that’s the books. I recommend at least the first if you’ve not read them. As for the series, I recommend it without reservation [3]. It’s sumptuous (fetishists of faux-historical costume design will think all their weird little Christmases have come at once) and violent and has Peter Dinklage, who is the best actor of diminutive stature of this or any age [4]. It’s also got insanely cute wolf pups, astonishing child actors (not all of them, mind you) and the best-designed opening credits sequence in a long time. And villains. So many, many villains.

I could go on. But I have a bed to go to and you have a Lost review to read. It’s about Hurley, so yeah, this is another one I liked.

 

[1] Though I do think the series loses some of its tautness around the third book, and I’m worried that the upcoming fifth has been baking so long that its going to come out tougher and drier than I would prefer.

[2] Which is a Note to Self reading: “writing stronger characters would be a good start”.

[3] I hereby add the proviso that my unreserved recommendation is hereby withdrawn for viewers who are averse to decapitations, bare breasts and extreme monster violence. It is on the HBO cable network, after all.

[4] Screw Linda Hunt. This guy has range.

 

Back to the Island 1.19 – Numbers

“One minute you’re happy-go-lucky, good time Hurley, the next you’re Colonel-bloody-Kurtz!” – Charlie Pace

Summary: Hurley’s helping build the new raft when Jack-on-patrol strolls by. Michael explains that they’ve posted a 24 hour guard – Sawyer, who is busy squinting his way through A Wrinkle in Time and complaining about all the construction noise – but the real problem is whether passing shipping is ever going to see the raft. If only they had some kind of transmitter. Jack says he’ll line it up with Sayyid (I wasn’t aware that Michael and Sayyid were on such bad terms that Michael can’t walk fifty metres down the beach and talk to Sayyid himself, but there you are). But how will they power this transmitter they blithely assume Sayyid can manufacture from the handful of bits of loose wire left over from the raft they’re building? If only they had a source of batteries.

Hurley helpfully recalls that the crazy French woman had batteries, but Sayyid unhelpfully recalls that the crazy French woman is crazy. For that matter, she uses them for the sexy torture of roguishly handsome passers-by, so she might not be too keen to hand over her batteries. While trying to convince Sayyid to take him to find crazy Rousseau, Hurley finds a map and a page full of Numbers repeated line after line: “4 8 15 16 23 42”. This unsettles him somewhat. In the middle of the night Sayyid wakes up to the not-at-all creepy sight of Hurley staring and clumsily pretending to be interested in his translations of Rousseau’s ramblings rather than about the numbers. He steals the map Sayyid stole and takes off the next morning to find her. Sayyid confronts Jack and demands he return the map, but for once this is something Jack knows absolutely nothing about. Charlie does though, and when the three of them realise that Hurley’s likely to set off one of Rousseau’s everyone-deterring deathtraps, they follow him. They catch up with him just as he is about to fall afoul of a terrifying spiky ball thing, but the oddly determined Hurley saves himself rather than wait for rescue.

The expeditioneers find a rickety rope bridge across a ravine and, again uncharacteristically incautious, Hurley crosses it. He only just makes it – the bridge snaps beneath him. Hurley and Charlie find a path and head off, leaving Jack and Sayyid to circle around and find another way to cross and catch up. They stumble across Rousseau’s old camp when Jack sets off a tripwire that blows the camp up. Sayyid realises that Rousseau anticipated his return and has moved on (leaving behind yet another less-than-neighbourly exploding welcome mat). Hurley and Charlie split up when someone starts shooting at them – Rousseau of course. Hurley goes off on an epic rant, demanding to know what she knows about the Numbers. It turns out that 16 years earlier her expedition picked up a radio signal broadcasting those numbers and shipwrecked themselves on the Island. After everyone else was dead, she broke into the radio tower and taped over the message with one of her own. She doesn’t know what the Numbers mean either, but like Hurley she believes they are cursed. Out of solidarity with the only person on the Island less stable than she is, she gives him a battery and sends him home.

Later, Hurley tells Charlie he thinks his bad luck caused the plane to crash, but Charlie rubbishes the idea: “Planes crash, people die.” Charlie admits that he was a heroin addict, but doesn’t believe when Hurley admits he’s a millionaire. Finally, we see a closeup of Locke and Boone’s mysterious jungle hatch, upon which the six cursed Numbers have been stamped.

Flashback: After Hurley wins the lottery by playing the six Numbers, bad luck starts to plague those around him – his grandfather dies of a heart attack, the priest at the funeral is struck by lightning and things don’t improve much from there. Hurley backtracks the Numbers to Leonard, an inmate at the psychiatric institution where Hurley spent some time. Lennie repeats the Numbers over and over, but when Hurley reveals that he used the numbers to win the lottery Leonard goes berserk. He tells Hurley to look up Sam Toomey in Kalgoorlie (“Australia!” he helpfully appends). Hurley duly heads to the outback but Toomey’s been dead for four years. His wife explains that Leonard and Sam were stationed at a Pacific listening post sixteen years earlier when they picked up a transmission playing the Numbers on a loop. Later Sam used the Numbers to win a competition, but afterwards he and his wife were in a car accident. Toomey, like Hurley, became convinced that the Numbers brought him bad luck, and he killed himself. His wife dismisses talk of a curse: “You make your own luck Mister Reyes.”

Highlights: Finally! The Hurley episode! I was worried they were going to make us sit through yet another Jack-is-stubborn or Kate-is-weepy melodrama before we finally got to the Big Man himself. Jorge Garcia is the highlight here. Hurley seems like the broad-strokes comic relief character, but Garcia’s performances elevate the material. His comic timing is always, always impeccable, and the man can deliver a quizzical squint that conveys more meaning than two pages of Boone dialogue. His rant at Rousseau, in which he complains that he can happily accept the Island’s many great mysteries if only he can get to the bottom of the Numbers , is hilarious and yet strikingly fearful. His absurd backstory is rightly played for laughs, but Garcia invests Hurley with a great deal of dignity amidst all the ridicule, and the way Hurley’s self-doubt becomes fear with a touch of self-loathing is a well-judged contrast to both levity and tragedy.

Rousseau’s back, which is nice, even if all she gets to do is spout forth another torrent of Island-backstory exposition. Actually, her most telling character moment is in a scene in which she doesn’t appear: after Jack and Sayyid set off the trap at her camp, they pick through the rubble and Sayyid realises that she abandoned it rather than risk him leading others (or the Others, perhaps) back to her. She is crazy like a fox, that one.

The subplot I didn’t mention, in which Locke seconds Claire into helping him construct what turns out to be a cradle for her baby is sweet and well-played but doesn’t reveal much. It’s Claire’s birthday, but she doesn’t seem all that upset that nobody brought her cake – though she does look delighted at Locke’s gift. For once I can’t really see any sinister or manipulative overtones to Locke’s gesture – he’s just being a nice guy. Albeit one who has developed yet another surprising skill, this time carpentry. I swear, this guy is a 200 point GURPS character put together by the King of the Munchkins. Oh come on, sooner or later you knew I was going to put a gaming reference in this.

Themes: The Numbers deserve capitalisation. Certainly every time Hurley says the word, you can hear the uppercase N. Though they have often featured individually throughout the series to this point, the Numbers assume a collective significance here, confirming themselves as a…theme? Well, maybe more of a motif – they seems to have great significance in the narrative, but their origins and supposed power and apparent malevolence are all ambiguous at best. But the numbers certainly appear in the show a lot from this point on. It’s not quite a guarantee, but the odds are that any time that someone needs to make a numerical reference in Lost, one or more of these six will be used. It happens so often that I’m not even going to bother pointing instances out unless they seem amusingly contrived. Such as their gratuitous appearance on the hatch at the end of the episode, which immediately creates a sense of dread around the hatch. Until that moment the hatch had been just another curious Island puzzle, but now – is it cursed? We’ll see.

Hurley’s dilemma reflects one of the other big questions of the show, that of Free Will versus Fate. Are Martha Toomey, Carmen Reyes and Charlie right in asserting that there are no such things as bad luck, or are Hurley and Rousseau right to believe that the Numbers are cursed and will lead them to terrible fates? Locke seems to have a bet each way – Claire asks him at one point whether he believes in bad luck. “I believe in a whole lot of things” he replies. We do not hear Jack’s perspective, but it’s not hard to guess which ring we’ll find his hat in.

Sawyer is reading A Wrinkle in Time. I was going to offer that without comment, but it occurs to me that my assumption so far is that the producers were just throwing ideas out there throughout Season 1 with no real plan about how they would all fit together later. Sly little moments like this one make me suspect that it may be only partially true. They clearly had some ideas about what they expected the show would become.

Hurley’s financial manager tells him at one point that he has bought a controlling share in a box company in California. This is undoubtedly the box company at which Locke works. While I was checking another reference for this episode, I learned that the “Mary Jo” reading out Hurley’s winning lottery numbers is the woman being romanced by Sawyer at the start of “Outlaws”. As it happens, she is also Harold (“Michael”) Perinneau’s wife. I suspect that this latter coincidence is driven more by rank opportunism than ingenious metaplot design on the producers’ part. Good for them.

Verdict: There’s just one flaw to this episode, which very nearly ruins it for me, and that is the inexplicably awful accent of the supposed Australian Martha Toomey in the Kalgoorlie scene. Her accent is utterly terrible, and her inflections so off the mark that on several occasions I could not actually follow what she said. I mean, I’m not usually one to complain about impenetrable accents on the telly, but when it’s supposed to be a regional variant of one’s own accent, well…

Anyway, that ridiculous complaint aside, “Numbers” is terrific. For one thing, it’s a great relief to finally start digging under the surface of Good Times Hurley, the affable comedy character. Sure, his backstory is a total joke, but the sadness and self-recrimination at the core of the character is superb. In the hands of a lesser performer Hurley would be an amusing support character, but instead he’s the wounded but steely heart of the cast. Considering the plot of the episode breaks down to “Hurley borrows a battery from Rousseau”, “Numbers” works on every level in spite of itself. And in spite of that woman’s dreadful, awful accent. Nine out of ten.

4 Comments »

  1. I remember thinking something along the lines of ‘If, looking back, they can make this fit into a narrative that makes sense, they will really have pulled off something impressive’ and that they were really pushing the envelope in terms of the likelihood of this actually happening. I think I must have mentally edited Martha Toomey out, as I can’t remember her at all. The messing about with probability in this episode reminded me of some of the offstage events mentioned in “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

    Comment by The Former Dr Clam — May 15, 2011 @ 7:53 am

  2. By curious coincidence I just heard of ‘Roadside Picnic’ for the first time today (I had heard of Tarkovsky’s film adaptation ‘Stalker’ though). I am intrigued and need to track a copy down.

    Comment by lexifab — May 15, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

  3. OMG, I found a copy of it online – I’ve only read about 20 pages but it is utterly riveting. Thanks for the prompt.

    I won’t link to it, since I suspect it’s not a legal copy, and as much as I’m in favour of piracy as a promotional tool, I’m not going to make that decision for the legal copyright owners, who may or may not be the authors. I should probably put together a blog about the subject one of these days. I imagine it would be a bountiful topic of conversation.

    Comment by lexifab — May 20, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  4. I should probably put together a blog about the subject one of these days

    When you do, I will rip it off and pass it off as my own in a jolly ironic twist 😛

    (And, I will have to have a look for Tarkovsky’s film adaptation)

    Comment by The Former Dr Clam — May 20, 2011 @ 11:13 am

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