There are two possible ways to look at yesterdays episode of LOST “Something Nice Back Home”, it was either a much needed break from the brain melting assault of episodes like “The Constant” and “Shape of Things to Come”, or it was a return to the tease and deny stalling of earlier seasons. Personally, I take the mid-road and think it was a bit of each, but there are plenty of people on either side of the fence so I’m just going to go ahead and target this break down at everybody – honing a motif from the great Italian spaghetti-western director Sergio Leone: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
“Something Nice Back Home” is a character centric episode that is all about the love. The relationship between Jack and Kate, Jack and Juliet, Daniel and Charlotte, Sun and Jin, and, yes, Sawyer and Claire. It’s about letting go of the things you can’t control. It’s about sacrifice. Mostly, it’s about how Jack becomes an oxy addicted would-be bridge jumper, although you’d need to have a knack for processing the subtle to get that.
One of LOST’s most impressive features as a story telling engine is its ability to spread it’s central theme transparently into the subplots, and deeper yet into the constituent characters and brief sequences that are just along for the ride. Eddy Kitsis and Adam Hororwitz, who wrote the episode, execute that technique perfectly in this episode.
In the primary arc we have stubborn Doctor Jack who has come down with a case of appendicitis and finds himself in need of emergency surgery. Rose becomes the audiences voice early on, importantly pointing out that Jack is not being healed by the island and pondering why. While this introduction to the thinking is brief, it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. The reason IS given in the subtext of the show. As a matter of fact, the cliché of “Doctor heal thyself” is dribbled all over this episode. The red herring is Bernard’s incredulous comeback to Rose’s pondering, sarcastically suggesting that Jack had “angered the Gods.” It’s pretty clear from where I am sitting that Jack wasn’t healed by the island because he doesn’t believe anyone can fix Jack but Jack.
The episode does a pitch perfect job of using the situation to communicate Jack’s underlying devotion to Kate. When we are down and out we reach for the ones we love and in this case it’s not Juliet that Jack is asking for, it’s Kate. The script very nicely disqualifies Kate from most of the situations that Jack is requesting her for, but he continues to ask for her. He is SO not over Kate, and Juliet gets it.
The withering of the Juliet/Jack (or Jacket) affair is also executed nicely. It is interesting that during a sequence in which Juliet is tending to Jack’s physical distress, being a nurturer, that she is also coming to grips internally with the fact that this man is not going to be hers. When she later intimates this with Kate, her tone is very much self-assuaging. As the one who saved his body, she must now pull back and allow Jack’s wounded soul to heal. But it doesn’t.
One could say that the true ‘love’ theme here is almost parental in nature. In the flash-forward sequences we find Jack struggling to be a nurturer himself. Trying to be a father-figure to Aaron (by reading some Alice in Wonderland mythos, by the way), and a physician friend to Hurley – who has suddenly bought into the purgatory theory, and later an attempt to become a husband again, to Kate, yet another nurturer role. Jack is seeking something in the future, something he hasn’t really known in his life; perhaps betrayed by Kate’s surprise when Jack says something positive about Christian: “You never say anything good about your father.”
All of this works out to be a house of cards, of course. We know that Jack does not wind up in a good place in the future, and there seems to be a definite connection between that and Jack’s obsessive-compulsive tendency to screw things up. Jack is not a nurturer. Jack is a god-complex afflicted bully whose attempts to efface his latently bad character traits always end with the progress needle on empty. For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say he doesn’t know when to give up. Wanting to watch his own surgery so he can talk Juliet through it is not that far removed from his reaction to Kate’s Sawyer-favor; he’s as distressed by the fact that he can’t remove any loyalty Kate may have to her island fling as he is by his inability to remove the offending organ from his body; and both are equally beyond his control.
Sawyer is also a nurturer in this episode. It can’t be a coincidence that his level of big brotherness (in the familial, non-Orwellian way) is so profound in this episode. The subplot is a small retelling of the Jack themes in a more ornate Grimm-Brothers sort of ditty. Lost in the forest, big brother Sawyer’s insistence that Miles stay away from Claire is eventually heeded with disastrous (?) results. Again, overbearing is rewarded with woe.
Even in the smallest scenes we have examples of nurturing. Daniel insists that Charlotte let him go ahead into the dark abyss of the staff, even though she could probably kick his butt in a fair fight. Jin flat-out telling Charlotte that Sun and the baby come first when it comes to them leaving the island.
Much of this reinforces the character dependent end game as well. We see Kate’s pain when faced with the fact that Aaron is not her son. This is clearly what we see motivating her resistance to the idea of returning to the island, as seen in “Through the Looking Glass.” Jack, as well, is explained further. Even in situations where he cannot possibly control anything, he wants to be in control. A nagging cornerstone to his self destruction is he can’t pry Sawyer from Kate’s mind, even if the glue has nothing to do with her devotion to the good doc. It could very well be that Jack’s own knee-jerk objection to Hurley’s suggestion of returning to the island in “The Beginning of the end” was more rooted in the fact that such a return would reunite Kate with his romantic rival Sawyer. Later in life, in “Something Nice Back Home” time, Jack is willing to take on roles he is not psychologically ready to commit to – father, husband, caretaker, etc. – in an attempt to sort of reinforce his lack of self assurance.
“Something Nice Back Home” is a preview, in my mind, of some of the character issues that will need to be dealt with in LOST’s end-game, and that is exhilarating. If following the cosmogony of all great myth worlds, LOST will probably end with the destruction, in some manner, of the island – if not merely as a construct – and such stories end poorly when the focus is on making a pretty explosion instead of one the audience is emotionally invested in. LOST is an emotional epic as well as a fantasy-world, and Horowitz and Kitsis sealed the deal here by plumbing the depths just a bit further showing that, as some critics suggest, the character stories have NOT been told completely yet.
The LOST gang knows that you can’t do a character dense episode without throwing some scraps to the mythology fans, and that is really what happened in this episode. There was enough of an indication of the otherworldly elements to keep fans “turning pages,” but the net gain from a story perspective was negligible, and enigmatic.
The mythology gains were enigmatic. If there is one device that is overdone on LOST it is spying deceased love ones. When there is no conversation there to qualify the space within the episode, it’s even worse. The moments of weirdness were pretty much patented LOST ‘Gimmicks’ with the exception of Hurley’s ‘message’ for Jack and the physical world interaction between Christian and Aaron. With the story advancing so quickly now, it was a bit disheartening to have these moments linger without moving the story forward.
I enjoyed the episode. I thought that the appendicitis made for a convincing platform to illustrate the depth of Jack’s control and acceptance issues, and the way the theme was integrated into other aspects of the episode was brilliant. I once asked Eddy Kitsis what film inspired him to get into writing and he said “Annie Hall.” As any sci-fi geek remembers, bitterly, Annie Hall beat out Star Wars for the best picture award at the 1977 Oscars. When I told Kitsis how outraged I was at the time, he replied with something in-kind – despite the dubious fact that it was his film that won. Clearly, with “Something Nice Back Home”, “Annie Hall” has beat “Star Wars” again, but again… not by much.