Wednesday, May 9, 2007

From Zero to Hero

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

It's hard to imagine a less inspiring schmecker of a man than the measly little junky that was Charlie back when this story started. With his painted nails and his potato nose and his pathetic pretensions to stardom, he seemed to be the comic relief in the crowd. But Charlie came a long way. He found his purpose on the Island. He faced the reality of his failures without blinking. And in one act,

he showed more heroism really than any of these characters have ever shown. A heroin addict, lost in paradise with a lifetime supply of secret hidden smack...throwing it into the ocean? That was either the most unbelievable or the most courageous moment in the history of this story. And it passed with little fanfare. On Lost, as we will see, the fanfare is almost always reserved for one undeserving figurehead. The little people like Charlie are the ones with heroic hearts, the ones who give this story its humanity, and for part of this episode, even though it felt the whole time like a wrenching goodbye....the real heroes got a chance to be seen. Just briefly, but at least we got a glimpse.

Charlie's life is at that point in a story where things really are just too good to stay put.

He's kicked the monkey off his back, he's healthy, he's keeping it real with his girl and his baby boy and his breezy oceanfront shack in the Garden of Eden. Of course, his best friend and constant companion these days is the Angel of Death himself...

But Charlie seemed to have adjusted to that. Desmond had been kind of relegated to Chicken Little status, annoying but avoidable, until this day. The day the sky really did start to fall.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.- Will Rogers
Desmond had seen a vision of Charlie coming up into an underwater chamber, flipping a switch and dying. This vision coincided neatly with the slap dash, last minute, oh-forgot-to-tell-ya intel that there was indeed such a place with such a switch that needed order to pull off a ridiculous doomed plan that made no sense, but we'll get to that later...and Charlie, non swimmer though he be, stepped up to do it.

Knowing it would mean his death. Because his Angel had promised him it also meant his little family would survive.

No one but Charlie and Desmond knew that this would be the end of Charlie's crooked hobbity road, but he, unlike some we will mention, didn't stop to blow any horns about it. This was a pure kind of heroism, the beautiful kind.
There was actually a lot of that kind of beautiful, pure heroism in this episode.
I believe it is the nature of people to be heroes, given the chance. - James A. Autry
Once upon a time, this story seemed to be about a microcosm of humanity, each piece of it as important as any other, and while along the way that story was buried under a tidal wave of starpower, this week we were allowed to enjoy it once again, in all the stories of all our ordinary men and women embracing their inner heroes.

Bernard reappeared from his season long siesta to show off his eagle-eye shooting skills, and brushed off his wife's fears and offered to face a very uncertain fate.

Jin did what Jin does. He squinted through the babble of his beachmates....figured out what they needed him to do ... and did it. Like he's done since the beginning, since he fed them, since he built the raft for them, since he sacrificed himself for their rescue. Jin's always been a hero. A silent hero. Pure.

There was the everyday heroism of a mother, the protector of vulnerable life.

In Otherville, there was the heroism of this blotchy faced kid, who risked the wrath of Whackjob Ben to come and warn strangers they were in imminent danger.

And our favorite little Alix in Wonderland looked pretty courageous here, slaughtering her daddy's favorite White Rabbit right under his nose...

(This is going to be a strange journey through the looking glass, isn't it, with the white rabbit being gutted before it even begins?)

Hurley...was willing.

Desmond offered to take the cup of hemlock from Charlie's hand. Hero.

And Sayid of course, whose honest heroism is a North Star. Not only does he always offer himself up for any risky venture, not only does he run around with the pooper scooper trying to confabulate plans when no one else seems able, he keeps a straight face pretending that

this sweaty, wildeyed giboffa is in fact in charge. Why he does this is one of Lost's biggest mysteries - and I really think they'd all have been a lot better off if he'd cut it out a long time ago - but he did it again this week, reminding the jittery fool that he had to "be a leader". ...Come on, Sayid! You're not fooling anybody. One of these days you have to tell us what you really feel.

You might not realize it, but it's written all over your face.
Because, you see, while all the human beings in this story were sticking their courage to the sticking spot in ways that felt real and true, Dr. Jack was out getting himself dunked in a can of Hero Paint.

He really needed a fresh coat after all. It got a little chipped during that week he spent fraternizing with the enemy at summer camp.

And it really faded that time he left Kate and Sayid handcuffed with killlers, because his fine sense of judgment told him Ben's word could be trusted.

The paint really became invisible altogether when he ran off to save his own ass there with Juliet.

And it looked pretty dirty when he was joking with her about that funny trick they pulled on Kate back in the Mudwrestling Chicks episode.

Not to mention how when he ordered all these other adults to accept the Other in their midst while he spent a few days lounging around the campfire with her.
You know, come to think of it, I don't imagine even Jack has the nerve to paint himself as a Hero after all that. But he sure as hell had no problem lathering himself up with the Leader Paint instead.

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." - Peter Drucker

Yeah, well, this one says "I" all the time. Could that be the problem? "I" have been the leader for 90 days. "I" made a decision. "I" will save your sorry pathetic asses...and so on and so forth. Could this be the reason these people are so perpetually screwed?

You do not lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Now, to be fair, Jack didn't go to West Point. And neither did I. But I don't think you need a degree in Military Strategy to see that Dr. Leader Man was seriously in over his furry little head. They were mining three tents to blow up... to be detonated by three sharpshooters who would have to stand near the beach (because Jack's secrecy had robbed them of the time needed to wire the tents for remote detonation)...and if the invaders maybe didn't all go to those three tents in three even, maybe most of them wouldn't even get hit? Unless I missed something, I do believe that was the entire freaking plan. ALL the invaders would have to split up, go to the three tents simultaneously, and die. Any other possible outcome and maybe one guy would get his eyebrows burned off while the rest of them would be free to rampage with their superior weaponry, quickly capture the exposed shooters and wreak all subsequent inevitable havoc.

Now to continue our policy of being fair to Doctor Leader, he also was leading his flock of naive dummies up to the signal tower, which would not work unless Charlie's plan worked. Although he initially used his great leader powers to forbid Charlie going into the hatch. And if Charlie wasn't able to succeed, all the people would be on the hilltop, signalling nothing, without weapons, while the unharmed, well armed invaders were free to follow them. Do I have this straight? Because this doesn't sound like a plan to me. It sounds like a Keystone Kops cartoon. They might as well have stayed on the beach and thrown rocks.

It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.... Ghandi

It's also worth mentioning that this great plan of Jack's was hatched in utter secrecy, because no one else's input was worth anything. They could have been using that time on the beach to strip out wires and wire up the entire shoreline to blow up the invaders as they landed. Or to discuss the newly discovered Looking Glass hatch and rigging a safety wire down there to ensure some chance of successfully disabling it.
Nah, instead Jack spent a week helping Juliet spruce up her tent, then marched the group out to a field like nursery school children on a field trip,

to bring out his prop Rousseau from Stage Left,

to use up precious dynamite...

to blow up a tree!

But ENOUGH of this jerk. He's a fucking disgrace at this point. And a total distraction from the story about an ordinary guy, a real hero.
Death doesn't seem as scary when it comes unexpectedly. But the terror increases with foreknowledge, and Charlie has had to deal with a boatload of that. His list of greatest moments was really a profile in courage, not so much for what was in them, but for the courage it took to write them down without bailing on his mission.

Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach.... Ayn Rand

When we saw how Charlie once craved fame and money, we remembered how he used to strut and swagger about being a rock star. But the island humbled him. When he spoke with Naomi about his reputation, he was self deprecating. He surrendered those illusions. He grew.

When his brother gave him the ring, Charlie was a debauched little pig, and the idea of him passing it on to family must have seemed pretty remote.

But Charlie was given that gift and he cherished it for what it was.

When he saved Sayid's lost lover (Easter egg alert) in an alley, it was still hard for him to see himself as a hero. He had a long way to go through scag addiction and plane crashes and being hung from a banyan tree in the jungle before he got there,

but what Nadia saw in Charlie was the real thing.

Meeting Claire probably was the best thing that ever happened to Charlie. He never asked anything of her, never took anything from her,

and never questioned that he had to die when he learned it was to save her.

Charlie probably never did learn to swim. But he learned how to go down...

and come back up.

And in the end that's all he had to do to become a hero.
He didn't want to go.

At the end, he weakened. What a great moment, great acting by Dominic Monaghan. You could feel every ounce of his fear, his regret for the life he wouldn't get to live,

his wishing and wishing to find a way out,

a way that Desmond even offered to him.

Maybe he just realized this was the one thing he'd been leading up to all his life,

the one chance he had to really become the noble man that had been hiding behind his skeevy junky exterior all these years.
So he dove...

...and when he came up he was ALIVE!

But things weren't looking too promising...

Charlie lives to fight another....well another few minutes at least.

Will he at least find a way to flip that switch? Tune in next week, for parts 2 and 3 of Lost's season finale, wherein the Painted Leader reclaims his stranglehold on the story. Caro putridas es. Deus misereatur.

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