Wednesday, August 5

Numbers (S1, ep. 18)

Numbers (S1, ep. 18)

Rousseau: “The Numbers are what brought me here – as it appears they brought you.”

Our first Hurley episode. Not surprisingly, it's one of my favorite rewatched eps so far. I love Hurley - not just because he's a generally cuddly, fun guy, but because he's so often the voice of legitimate reason on the Island and off of it. He's grounded in ways that the other castaways aren't, even if his troubles are just as serious as many of theirs.

Long story short: Hurley goes looking for Rousseau in order to get an explanation for the Numbers. Much danger, potential death, and hilarity ensues.

Random notes:

The Dark Territory gets a shout-out via Rousseau's notes.

The sheet that Rousseau used to repeatedly write the numbers on has a hand-drawn arrow that appears to point to another sheet, or to its own opposite side. We’re never shown what this arrow alludes to.

One way to look at The Numbers: Do they function in a metaphorical way to question, both directly and indirectly, the difference between fate and coincidence? Between meaning and meaninglessness? The Numbers, which have become one mystery among many on this show, have always appeared to be malevolent to me. Like Hurley, I’ve focused on how they appear to bring bad luck to everyone around him. But on rewatch I’m finding myself thinking specifically of Christian, and how he’s always appeared malevolent to me as well. Folks here have made an intriguing case for Christian being Jacob/Jacob’s messenger/Jacob’s avatar, and although I’m not sold on the idea I am open to it.

I began feeling the same way about the Numbers as I rewatched this ep., remembering Jacob’s words to Hurley in the cab. Like Richard Malkin the psychic, there’s no information given here that would indicate that the Numbers are definitively ‘unlucky’ or ‘lucky.’ It’s left up to each individual’s interpretation. Is the ‘curse’ in Hurley’s mind? Is it connected to the Island? Keep in mind: I’m staying completely in-show for this rewatch. I’m not factoring in Valenzetti equations and internet puzzle hunts. If they don’t say or show it in the episodes themselves, it doesn’t count (at least as far as I’m concerned). With those parameters, it’s difficult to get a fix on what the numbers are, if they have any real meaning, and whether their mystery will be resolved by the show’s end.

If memory serves, Cuse and Lindelof have indicated that they won’t really be dealing with this element as the show wraps and I suspect I’ll be just fine with that. It’s more interesting to have a well-crafted, open-ended mystery rather than a definitive, disappointing answer.

This episode is littered with moments that might be coincidence, or that might be influenced by an unseen ‘hand.’ Case in point:

Hurley wins the lottery, gives an interview, shows off his grandfather and tells the cameras that ‘The first thing I’m going to do with the money is give him the rest he’s always deserved.’ Coincidence that this comment comes just before his grandpa’s heart attack? Bad luck? Or a Walt-like unknowing summons of death? It’s not clear.

Hurley’s hip-hop beach walk = hilarious.

Shannon and Sayid continue to convince as a couple.

One way to look at The Numbers: Lost has always been , among other things, a show about opposites and balance. We saw this literally rendered with the MiB/Jacob opening scene in the Season 5 finale. We’ve seen it in the way characters mirror each other and act as reflections. We’ve seen it in the various ‘sides’ and conflicts presented on the show. The Numbers can symbolize the concept of opposition and of balance. If one believes that the universe is calibrated in such a way that ‘every action has an equal, and opposite, reaction,’ and every ‘good’ must come with a corresponding amount of ‘bad,’ then the personal good fortune which Hurley receives as a consequence of playing the Numbers can be seen to be counter-balanced by an equal amount of ill fortune in a kind of ‘course correction.’

The Numbers, in this context, would seem to function in such a way as to make the pendulum of life swing in increasingly broad strokes between the polar opposites of ‘positive’ and ‘negative,’ without means to ‘stop’ the progression. As Hurley’s personal good fortune increases, so does the ill fortune of those around him. And these two factors contribute and feed off of one another, creating a kind of feedback loop.

Great Random Accountant Line: “You are now the majority shareholder for a box company…”

This is presumably the box company that Locke worked for. I can’t help but think of the Magic Box Ben references in later seasons when these references pop up.

One way to look at The Numbers: They illustrate our need to use the mysterious in order to explain the mysterious. Absent a ‘good, rational’ reason for the misfortune all around him, why wouldn’t Hurley blame The Numbers? It’s a human thing to do. They also show how we’re willing, even eager, to adjust our theories on the unexplained in order to comfort ourselves. Hurley’s sudden realization that it’s not the money that’s the problem, but The Numbers, as example.

Great Hurley Line: “I can get out of the way. I’m spry!”

It’s in this episode that we learn Hurley was in an institution. The way this is teased out and revealed is really great.

We see Leonard, the man Hurley heard the Numbers from, playing Connect Four – another game with bright and dark sides.

Interesting Leonard Line: “You opened the box. It doesn’t stop! You gotta get away from those Numbers!”

There’s that box imagery again. And there’s the notion that ‘using’ the Numbers creates something that can’t be stopped. Something that sounds, simultaneously, like the course correction we’re now so familiar with, and significantly, like its opposite – ‘course destruction,’ so to speak. Which is it? Is it either?

Thanks to Jack, Sayid and Charlie following Hurley into the jungle we discover that the wire from the beach runs straight into the ground. Does this imply something about the power source?

Jack, Sayid, Hurley and Charlie come across an old rope bridge in their search for Rousseau. Other than the Hatch, the wire and Rousseau’s camp, this is the first man-made thing the castaways have found. It’s suggested that Ethan and his crew could have built it, and I’m inclined to agree, though I also like the image of the Black Rock crew building it.

One way to look at The Numbers: They’re meaningless.

Hurley is arguably consistently ‘lucky’ throughout the episode – if compared to others around him. But the question should be asked: is this really luck, as we typically define it? Or is it simply that Hurley knows himself, knows what he’s capable of, and ‘makes his own luck’ (with the obvious exception of the Lottery win, which could just as ‘easily’ be explained by Ben/Widmore/Jacob/MiB manipulation as by a ‘Numbers force’)? Is Hurley ‘blessed,’ with good fortune/good reason in general and, as a result, it makes it appear that everyone else has bad luck?

Great Charlie delivery: “I’m okay! WHOOO!”

When Hurley goes to Australia to seek out the other man who’d been exposed to the Numbers, we get a little bit more mystery, a hint of mythology connection, and a whole lot of opportunities to spin our philosophical wheels when he meets the man’s widowed wife. We learn that Leonard and Sam (the man in Australia) both served in the US Navy and were stationed in the Pacific at a radio station ’16 years ago’ (1985?). Was it the US Navy that was also surveying the Island back in the 50’s?

Like Hurley, Sam used the Numbers in a contest and they appear to have ‘boosted’ his luck. Like Hurley, Sam became convinced that the Numbers were making everyone around him suffer. He and his wife were struck by a truck on their way home and while his wife lost her leg, Sam didn’t have a scratch on him.

One way to look at the Numbers: Sam’s wife asks Hurley, “you think I wouldn’tve lost my leg, that homes wouldn’t have burned down, that people wouldn’tve died? You make your own luck.” She may be right about this, but the listing of personalized tragedies she runs through (one assumes that it wasn’t ‘some people we didn’t know’ whose homes burned, but people that Sam and his wife knew) makes me question it. Like the Numbers themselves seem to do, I find myself swinging back and forth between ascribing everything and nothing to them.

While Hurley’s off Rousseau-hunting, there’s a nice little sub-plot between Locke and Claire – two characters that coincidentally or not (and with this show who can really tell?) end up as seeming avatars on the Island. Locke as the MiB’s false form, and Claire as creepy-smirking-girl-in-spooky-cabin. Unbeknownst to Claire, Locke is crafting a cradle for Claire’s unborn baby. This is sweet of him, but that sweetness is undercut by the fact that we the audience remember this cradle as the same one from Claire’s Lynch-dream.

It’s never been clear to me whether some/most of Locke’s incredibly useful store of knowledge (he makes glue! Out of rendered animal fat! Look out Man vs. Wild!) was absorbed by him in preparation for his Walkabout, or in his life generally before the crash, or whether some/most of it was granted to him by his weird Island connection. I wouldn’t bring this up at all, and would chalk it up strictly to his off-Island zeal to prove himself, except that we know Locke is somehow privy to what appears to be an on-Island Wi Fi connection. He knows with eerie certainty when it’ll rain, he seems to be receiving some form of urging/coaxing in his mind that relates to the Hatch…again, all of this could easily and more simply be explained by Locke’s own personality. But there’s an element of uncertainty to it that makes it worth pointing out.

Interesting Locke Line: “I’m good at putting bits and pieces together.”

Indeed he is. I can see why O’Quinn was disappointed by his character’s shift in season two. Judging from Season One alone, Locke is the Obi-Wan of the Island. But as we’ll soon see, he’s more Anakin at heart.

Charlie and Hurley’s reaction to being shot at: Priceless.

Great Hurley Line (it’s so hard to pick just one): “Maybe it’s a monster…maybe it’s a pissed-off giraffe!”

The castaways set off a boobytrap designed to destroy Rousseau’s camp, but Sayid finds Nadia’s photograph among the blast-wreckage. The edges of the photo are singed, but her face is untouched.

Hurley and Rousseau meet up, and his desperation with her is legitimately moving. When she confirms for him, in her roundabout way, that the Numbers brought bad luck to all those around her, the relief that Hurley expresses is both pathetic and deeply understandable. He wants someone, anyone, to understand his pain – to validate it – because even if he’s crazy, he’s still got to live with what he believes. The meet-up gives us a little more info regarding Rousseau. Almost verbatim:

“The ship picked up a transmission, a voice repeating the Numbers. After we shipwrecked, my team began to search for the transmission source (we see them enlist Jin to help with this in ‘This Place Is Death’). It was weeks before we found the radio tower, which is up by the Black Rock. Some of us continued to search for the meaning of these Numbers while we waited for rescue but then the Sickness came. When my team was gone I went up to the tower and changed the transmission.”

Still nothing directly contradicting what we’ve seen in Season Five. Beyond the mythology aspects of this meet-up, we see that, yet again, it’s Hurley that’s able to continually and willfully bridge the trust gap between the various people on this Island. Rousseau barely makes an effort at distrusting him, lowering her gun after a few moments and accepting a full embrace from him.

Great Hurley Line (again!): “She says ‘hey’.”

Claire: “You believe in that? Luck?”
Locke: “I believe in a lot of things.”

One way to look at the Numbers: “You think you’re the only one with baggage,” Charlie asks Hurley at the end of this episode? Charlie’s right. Bad luck happens to all of us – the rain falls on the rich and the poor alike. To focus on one’s own misfortunes and the misfortunes of those directly connected to us is to miss that others elsewhere suffer the same misfortunes. Focusing on the 'why' of pain is to miss the point.

Life is pain, as the Buddha and the Princess Bride remind us. To recognize that life is suffering is to travel on the path to Enlightenment. But there are, as Locke reminded us, two sides. One light, and one dark. And just as we settle back, comforted by Charlie’s reminder of universality, the final shot of the Hatch reveals something stamped onto it’s side: 4 8 15 16 23 42


  1. Sorry if you've answered this elsewhere, but where did you read Terry O'Quinn was disappointed with his character's shift in Season 2? Just curious.

  2. Hey, Anon

    I've read that in a number of places. Here's one of them:,0,7166616.story

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Locke's survival know-how is one of my gripes.

    I've also wondered where Locke learned all these survival techniques & believe it would a way too much cramming to say it was in preparation for his walkabout.

    Not much in his flashbacks give indication that he spent much time outdoors either.

  4. Hey, thanks for the answer! This is a fantastic column! It's got me rewatching all the seasons on blu-ray as we head for Season 6. Keep up the great work!