Like a lot of ambitious series, ABC’s Lost doesn’t hit a home run every week. In fact, a lot of weeks it strikes out, and even solid episodes contain stuff that makes you want to hide under the sofa (hamfisted psychoanalytic dialogue, out-of-character behavior, redundant flashbacks and the like). But this week it delivered what was, without a doubt (cue voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons) one of its best episodes ever. (Warning, spoilers galore.) This particular installment, “Dave,” was built around the present-tense mental and emotional crisis of zaftig everyman Hurley (Jorge Garcia), with flashbacks to his institutionalization and a couple of tasty subplots (including some tense moments in the hatch between Terry O’Quinn’s Locke and possible “Other” spy Henry Gale, brilliantly played by Michael Emerson). It was light on action, unless you count Hurley giving smug Paul Newman-wannabe Sawyer (Josh Holloway) a long overdue playground beatdown. But the longer I watch this series, the more convinced I am that the action-adventure elements—the big setpieces, the plot revelations, hell, the whole master narrative—are its least interesting and maybe least durable aspects. What hooks me is the Twilight Zone sci-fi-as-morality-play vibe, the sense that this island is not exactly real and not exactly a fantasy or dream, but is instead a dramatic tabula rasa for the characters, a place where metaphors become tangible, real enough to see and touch and even converse with; basically an immense psychic theater-in-the-round. “Dave” illustrated those qualities more deftly than any episode this season.
Hurley, the lottery winner and former mental patient, chased what appeared to be his old hospital buddy Dave (Evan Handler) and came upon what he (and we) assumed was Dave’s “real” house slipper. Dave later explained to him that not only was the slipper a figment of his imagination, Dave was too. (On Lost, you always wonder if dramatically significant apparitions and objects—Jack’s dad’s coffin, for instance, or the polar bear, or the still unrevealed giant monster that Locke once described as the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen—are “real,” or if they’re manifestations of memories and fantasies. Is there a distinction? Does it even matter?) The revelation that Dave wasn’t “real” led to the implication that everything that had happened on the island up to then might have been a figment of Hurley’s unbalanced, unmedicated brain. Holy St. Elsewhere finale! (This would have been stunning rather than merely clever if I’d never seen A Beautiful Mind.)
As far as I’m concerned, after this week, Garcia, the show’s lovable audience surrogate, revealed himself as its de facto star and its deepest actor (with the possible exception of O’Quinn). He played an impressive range of emotions, from doubt and fear to anger and betrayal to unadorned, even helpless yearning. I believed every word he said and was moved by every silent closeup. That scene on the cliff—where Hurley almost made a figurative, literal and terminal leap of faith, then came to his senses thanks to a declaration of love from gorgeous Libby (Cynthia Watros), whose seemingly improbable affection was explained in a marvelous flashback closeup—might have been the most powerful exchange in the show’s short history. Garcia deserves much of the credit. He’s a plus-sized Tom Hanks, but with a buried core of resentment that erupted last night and rattled my notions of where Lost could take me. (If the film version of A Confederacy of Dunces ever gets made, he’s Ignatius Reilly. Period.) I was thrilled to learn that he and Handler are going to appear together again next week. [*] Handler, who played Charlotte’s husband on Sex and the City and the Kramer-esque oddball Shrug on “It’s Like, You Know..”, has Richard Dreyfuss’s intellectual scalawag charm, and perhaps his range. He’s one of those actors I am never not glad to see.
[*] Since first publishing this item, I’ve learned this isn’t the case; Handler did the March 28 and April 5 episodes, but won’t be on the April 12 installment.