Father issues are to the Lost flashback what cancer is to a diagnosis on House. There’s always a tumor somewhere on that show, and if someone has emotional trauma in their past on Lost, it almost always stems from their dad doing them wrong somewhere along the line. One could type up an exact recounting of whose father wronged them how, but that would take up the whole of this piece, and no one would want to read that. Suffice it to say that when Lost confirmed what we all suspected and let us know out front the parentage of Miles Straum, we longtime fans probably braced ourselves for another vaguely dissatisfying hour of a character working through a variety of complexes all linked to the man who walked out on them. Or, y’know, threw them out a window and paralyzed them. Whatever.
Actually, it’s not just Lost that suffers from an overabundance of father issues. It’s TELEVISION that suffers from an overabundance of father issues. Despite the old joke about the man laying down on the psychiatrist’s couch and the shrink saying, “Tell me about your mother” still garnering laughs on hoary sketch comedy shows, the number of significant drama characters with mother issues since Hill Street Blues ushered in the modern age of TV drama is incredibly small. Off the top of my head, I can think of Tony Soprano and ... uh ... Don Draper, maybe? His issues are really more all about just how much he hated EVERYthing about his upbringing, so the fact his mother was a prostitute seems to have as little to do with that as anything. Oh, there was Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica! But outside of that? Having a little trouble.
If no other shows on TV had father issues, though, Lost would more than pick up the slack. Only Claire (Emilie de Ravin) seemed to have a significant problem with her mother, and that was just as much stemming from the fact that she (say it with me now) Never Really Knew Her Father, who, incidentally, turned out to be Jack’s (Matthew Fox) shitty dad as well. Sawyer’s (Josh Holloway) real dad was a bastard, and his surrogate dad was Locke’s (Terry O’Quinn) terrible dad, the aforementioned guy who tossed Locke from aforementioned window. And those are just the people with REALLY bad father issues. It’s not even dealing with Hurley (Jorge Garcia) trying to handle that his dad left when he was a kid and only came back when he struck it rich, which is psychologically scarring but is no “My Dad Threw Me out a Window: The John Locke Story.”
I’m being a bit cheeky, obviously, but “Some Like It Hoth,” written by Melinda Hsu Taylor and Greggory Nations and directed by Jack Bender, inspires that sort of goofiness. It’s a pretty lighthearted episode at its chewy center, which is sort of nice in a season that’s been filled with Locke going through the stations of the cross on the way to his suicide and Ben (Michael Emerson) being judged for all of his misdeeds. I doubt “Some Like It Hoth” will make anyone’s top ten lists at the end of the series or even the season, but it’s a sweetly enjoyable hour of television, a reminder of when Lost would do off-format hours that felt more like little comedies than anything else, like the deeply divisive “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead” in season three. In fact, I don’t have a great deal to SAY about “Hoth,” which only offered up the mythological geekiness in pellet-sized form, like a season two holdover, and delved deeply into the past of a character we knew little about prior to its airing, like a season one holdover. Despite the time travel trappings and the fact that it took place in the glory days of the DHARMA Initiative, “Hoth” was maybe the first episode this season to really feel like it belonged to the early days of the show, which is a fairly impressive feat, all things considered.
But, OK, what actually HAPPENED in “Some Like It Hoth”? Not a lot, actually. Miles (Ken Leung) was recruited to deliver a package to Radzinsky (Eric Lange) out in the middle of nowhere. Radzinsky sent Miles off with a dead body, and Miles asked the body what had REALLY happened and gained the insight that the dude’s metal filling loosed itself from his tooth and shot into his brain (ew), killing him. Miles then took off for the in-construction Orchid with Hurley on board (he had to deliver some sandwiches), where the two ran into Miles’ dad, Pierre Chang (Francois Chau), who then took them to the in-construction Swan station, where Hurley got to watch the numbers he freaked out over so much get drilled into the side of the hatch. Along the way, Hurley tried to get Miles to bond with his dad to no avail, but the things he said had some effect, as Miles got all teary when he saw baby Miles hanging with his dad. Then Pierre came out and was all, “Miles, I need you,” and Miles TOTALLY THOUGHT HE MEANT SOMETHING ELSE, but really he just wanted him to go and pick up the scientists coming from Ann Arbor aboard the sub, and one of them was Daniel (Jeremy Davies). Awwwww. And, also, yay, Daniel!
The above was pretty much it for the episode’s A-story (there was also a flashback-driven B-story and a much more traditionally Lost-ish C-story), but the above also doesn’t capture how genuinely amusing much of the storyline was. Humor is one of the tools in the Lost toolbox that the show too rarely goes for. The actors are funny people, and there are a lot of characters who can BE funny under the right circumstances, but the show plays everything so portentiously that there’s rarely room for much humor, unless Hurley’s in the scene or unless Sawyer is giving everyone nicknames. This episode, though, was one of the funnier Losts ever, from lines like “The ditch had a gun” to Hurley’s idea that he could write The Empire Strikes Back since in 1977, George Lucas would just start to think about Star Wars sequels, and he had seen the thing enough times already (but the idea that he could make improvements? Blasphemy!).
In general, pairing Hurley and Miles up has been comedy gold on the few occasions it’s happened in the past, and it was again here. Similarly, tossing the stiffly awkward Pierre in the van with the two (and watching Miles recoil as he realized the kind of music his dad liked) offered plenty of funny business for the actors to play. One of the best things was the way the show played Miles revealing Pierre was his dad. Since so many fans had guessed as much so long ago, the show just tossed it off but also added the amusing conceit that Miles had figured it out on the third day in the ’70s, when his mom had gotten in line behind him at lunch. Good time travel humor!
The B-story flashbacks were serviceable as Lost-style, “Miles Straum? THIS is your LIFE” flashbacks go, and Leung is a solid enough actor that he was able to play things that were a little ridiculous on the face (like Miles coming to his mother’s deathbed and trying to get her to tell him all about his powers) and make them affecting. It was also nice to see Naomi (Marsha Thomason) turn up again in the flashbacks, as well as Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris as a concerned dad who just wanted to make sure his dead son knew he loved him. Having Miles go back to return the guy’s money and lecture him about how he should have told his son he loved him all along was a BIT too on the nose (Miles has father issues, OMG!), but I liked the earlier scene between the two, where we suspected Miles might be faking and the way the later scene let us know that Miles didn’t always practice being a psychic in the most reputable way possible.
Miles’ flashbacks also had a couple of mythological nuggets in them. For starters, the kinda shifty guy who’s teamed up with the new arrivals on the Island in the present day (they of the cryptic questions about the statue’s shadow) gets a name (Bram, oh, and he’s played by Brad Henke), and we also get the sense that not only is this, indeed, yet another faction struggling for control of the Island (since they’re not aligned with Widmore and don’t seem to be in league with Ben), but they’re also incredibly similar to some sort of religion with the Island as its focal point. Earlier in the season, I speculated that the story of the Oceanic Six and Locke returning to the Island was essentially a religious pilgrimage, but it sure seems like this new group has taken that concept to an extreme new level. Also, Naomi took Miles to “speak” with a dead body, who offered us tantalizing hints that Widmore was actually the one behind the faked Oceanic 815 crash (one of the less pressing questions in the show’s mythology but present nonetheless), not Ben. None of these pieces add up to a coherent whole, but they contribute to one of my favorite concepts in the series—the idea that the Island is a lost Shangri La for many, many people in our real world, who mostly do their dealings in secret but are always, always lusting to return to its splendor.
The big development in the episode, I suspect, will stem from the fact that Miles being called away to deal with Radzinsky’s problems meant that he didn’t get time to erase the tapes showing Sawyer and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) delivering the injured Lil’ Ben to the Others. These, of course, were found by Phil (Patrick Fischler), so Sawyer had to knock Phil out and tie him up (loved the look of placid acceptance on Juliet’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) face when Sawyer asked her to get the rope). Sawyer was able to keep up his front of being head of security Jim LaFleur for three years until Jack, Kate, Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Hurley returned and ruined everything, mostly just by being there. When well-meaning Kate went to tell Roger that his son would be fine and he quickly got suspicious, it seemed just another chapter in a long-running story of Kate messing up whatever she touches, but Jack, of all people, managed to smooth over the waters through some strategically placed words in Roger’s ear. Jack’s not exactly a model citizen in his DHARMA guise, but he’s also not trying to tell everyone what to do, probably a good idea when Sawyer’s kept everyone so safe for so long. Now, however, with Phil on to him, it seems likely it will be a sprint to a point where the conveniently returned Daniel can get everyone who belongs in 2007 (including the still-missing Sayid) back to the future.
As much as this plotline seems to point the way to the season’s end game (and there are only four hours spread over three episodes left), the best thing about “Some Like It Hoth” was the way it gave us insight into Miles, a previously entertaining but unexplored character, without getting too into its own importance. Just seeing Miles and Hurley drive around and compare their speaking-to-dead-people powers was fun, but to have it capped by Hurley rubbing in that Miles was just jealous because Hurley’s power was better was the perfect capper. I don’t want Lost to be funny every week or anything (anybody remember how The X-Files turned into a comedy for the first half of its sixth season for no real reason?), but having an off-format episode like this every once in a while can be a refreshing change of pace from the usual pell-mell forward momentum.
Just so long as there aren’t any more characters with father issues.
Some other thoughts:
1. Do you think we’re going to meet the DeGroots? They’re among my favorite marginal characters (if one can even call them that) in the Lost mythology, and I hope they turn up for the season’s final episodes. I just dig Midwestern utopians!
2. 24 update: I fell way, way behind but decided to catch up when I heard something inexplicable happened in this week’s episode. Well, something mostly inexplicable DID happen, and, Lord, if it wasn’t the kind of goofy twist I keep watching 24 for. Just don’t expect it to make much sense.
3. OK, so Daniel is back. Now all we need to do is get Sayid back from the jungle, rescue Lapidus from the “shadow of the statue” people, make sure Ben, Locke and Sun (Yunjin Kim) don’t fall into their clutches, get everyone from 1977 back to 2007 and somehow finagle Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) back to the Island. Piece of cake! (Actually, since the next episode is apparently a Daniel flashback, I’m guessing we’ll get some Desmond in that story as well.)
4. Apparently, there were Egyptian hieroglyphs on the board that Jack was cleaning off. I’m getting a little tired of online Lost fans assuming that the entire solution to Lost lays within Egyptian mythology and that Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) will stand up and proclaim, “I am the great sun god, Ra!” in the finale, and it will all make sense. Lost just likes to reference major points in Western civ. This doesn’t mean that it’s going to suddenly try to give us a likely-impossible crash course in Egyptian mythology.
5. Miles shouldn’t be so embarrassed by his dad’s taste in music. “Shotgun Willie” is a good song!
6. For the first time, we’re getting a real sense of why the specific team chosen to be on the freighter was chosen by Widmore. That was one of the big mysteries that probably should have been answered in season four but wasn’t answered that I felt most irritated by the strike for cutting off.
7. No new episode next week. Enjoy your “special,” and I’ll be back for the final three starting April 29. I expect there will be much to discuss.