If "Stranger in a Strange Land
" seemed short on the usual literary references a typical Lost
episode might provide, "Tricia Tanaka is Dead" one-upped it. However, Hurley-centric episodes tend not to be all that referential because he comes with his own inherent comedy, tensions, drama and mythology. And now he comes with Cheech Marin. But this hardly means the episode didn't have plenty to offer; some questions were answered while others were raised, the narrative took a turn back to the group-on-the-beach dynamic that drew audiences in during the first season, and some of Lost
's own narrative techniques were developed. This was also one of those episodes that seemed to slyly acknowledge the audience reactions to the narrative's development; more on that in a bit.
Hurley has hard luck. His father David left him with nothing but a hoped-shaped hole when he left in 1973, and Hurley filled that hole with candy bars for seventeen years. This little bit of knowledge lets us in on a few things: Hurley won the money around 1990, which means he was in the institution in the late 1980s (and honestly, who didn't need to be institutionalized back then?). This much has been surmised by the on-line community before this episode, but it provides the less jacked-in viewer some context. Before his father David split, he told Hurley that we make our own luck in this world; one has to wonder how that hit little Hugo, since it would mean his unlucky loss of his father was his own fault. This is also what Sam Toomey's wife Martha tells Hurley when he goes to Australia ? that he can't blame the numbers because we make our own luck. The good doctor in the two orientation films, Marvin Candle/Mark Wickman, also makes a point of wishing his audience (which includes us) "good luck" at the end of each film.
But this question of luck also brings up a parallel to "Flashes Before Your Eyes" and previous episodes; if Desmond is about a kind of David Hume-like compatibilist world, Locke is (or once was) about spiritual determinism and fate, and people like Jack and Sawyer are about free will, Hurley throws luck into the mix. Luck may seem like fate (in other words, like hidden determinism), but is more or less a result of the way the world goes, and not by some transcendent design. If you control and construct your own world well enough your luck will be good, since you're setting things up to operate in a certain way (what's the line, 'the harder you work, the luckier you get?'). Hurley made the mistake of buying into the luck, but not how to actively make it. Hurley's relationship with luck also means that when the deck crashed at the party, the event that drove him over the mental edge, he must have been thinking that even though it was unlucky, he somehow made his own unluckiness. Hurley is a study in over-interpretation, and sometimes it seems if it weren't for bad luck, Hurley would have no luck at all.
Hurley's problem with luck comes from a fallacy that assumes if B followed A, that means if A then always B; this is why he ascribes bad luck to the numbers (which may be bad on their own, seeing what they represent in the Valenzetti Equation). Athletes do this when they go through some preparatory ritual, have great success, and then do that same ritual every time before an event. This is a kind of mis-reading that may be correct, but there's no real way to prove it without more evidence. In other words, it's rather like watching Lost; the audience tries to connect various events and construct a meta-narrative around them, even though we don't have all of the evidence (which is also what makes it so fun).
So on to interpretation and over-interpretation: When Hurley's dad David takes off, he does so to the 1973 pop hit "Shambala" by Three Dog Night. There's plenty to be read into that particular song; Shambala is the mythical Buddhist utopia in Tibet, which recalls the other Eastern Buddhist references in the narrative. But the song was, melodically, a near rip-off of B.W. Stevenson's "My Maria" from the same year. B.W. Stevenson was a country singer who played the Austin club circuit, not a big figure on the adult contemporary charts. What this is, though, is an example of mirror twinning; both songs were hits, one melodically rhymes with the other, yet they are functionally different in content. This is essentially how Hurley and David's stories work in relation to each other; David leaves Hurley when Hurley is trying to help his dad and doesn't return, and when David tries to help Hurley, Hurley leaves (to Australia) and doesn't return. Their narratives, in that sense, melodically rhyme. This narrative rhyming is pushed when Hurley smacks up a mopey Charlie, essentially telling him to "cowboy up" like Sawyer did to Karl. (Does this suggest a parallel between Karl and Charlie, both fairly weak characters that have trouble getting to the women they love?)
But where did David go for all those years? This is one of those questions raised amongst the few answers that are given in this episode. He left, but we have no idea to where, and from what we saw, either Hurley isn't interested or hasn't asked ? which is to say we'll be seeing Cheech again. But that's not the only bit of foreshadowing in this episode: what was the dart doing on the jungle floor? Will that wound in Sawyer's foot lead to any other problems? Why exactly was there a Volkswagen bus out in the jungle in the first place, how did it tip over, and has it really been there since Rocky III? (Time isn't to be trusted here.) Who was Roger, and did he work the Swan Station with Inman? (Roger had a Swan Station logo on his coveralls.) And what was that crack Locke made about motivation all about?
These are the sorts of mysteries that drove the early episodes along, and may mark a turn for the narrative in general. Lost is a compact period of narrative time taking part over a protracted period of audience time; we're stuck with a relationship detail or mythological detail for a week or more, whereas in a book one could just move on to the next chapter and see how the previous information works into the larger narrative. That's a lot to ask of an audience, and ever since they went down the hatch, audience response has been increasingly mixed, for a number of reasons: the scheduling was problematic; audiences were nostalgic for the beach dynamic that was supplanted by the Others and the Tailies; the mythology was becoming too dense; the focus on relationships was taking away from the mythology. In effect, audiences were showing their fickleness with the medium of television, and the writers have been attempting to navigate audience response in an almost Web 2.0 social-network way (including embracing the web), while trying to maintain the course of the narrative they imagined in the first place. Last night's episode was a return to the original beach dynamic, and possibly a turn away from the close character studies of people like Jack; after all, when Kate tells Locke and Sayid that they were neither motivated to get Jack nor did they know the way, Locke tells her she was wrong ? not about the motivation, but about knowing the way. Locke and Sayid, like many audience members, are not motivated to go back to Jack; this seems to be an implicit nod to that audience, telling them to hang tight, these characters are you. Over at Lostcasts, a weekly podcast discussing the various intricacies of Lost (their logo reads "We read the forums so you don't have to"), they even suggested that Sawyer's popping Karl was an implicit nod to the audience to keep it together, things are going to start coming around and this will all make sense.
This kind of polarized response isn't new; ask anyone who studied literature in college whether they enjoyed slogging through James Joyce's Ulysses or David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, or couldn't get far enough away from those massive puzzles. Such dense, referential narratives have a way of at first attracting attention because of their novelty, but then losing some of that attention because of the effort it takes to understand them, while crystallizing a hardened core audience who can't wait to delve into the details. In order to appreciate how Lost functions, it's probably best not to think of it as television, but as a hybrid form of narrative that should be read like some monstrous book that exploded out beyond the bounds of the page.
The central image of this episode is Hurley taking the bus over the edge of a hill. In the past, when Hurley went over the (mental) edge, he lost his grip; this time, he held on and steered everything straight. This is a good central image for a narrative that, if the 100-episode limit is to be believed, is nearing its half-way point. Some of us will get in that bus, and some will sit outside it and crack wise. We'll have to see what patch-man holds for us next week.
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EDIT on a Date Discrepancy: Hugo's father David left him with nothing but a hope-shaped hole when he left in 1983, and Hurley filled that hole with candy bars for seventeen years. This little bit of knowledge lets us in on a few things: Hurley won the money around 2000, which means he was in the institution in the late 1990s (and I still maintain, who didn't need to be institutionalized back then?).