Special (S1, ep. 14)
I'm of two distinct minds about Michael and Walt. One the one hand, I think the portrayal of a badly damaged father and his 'special' son is generally well-written, well-acted, and well-done by all involved parties. On the other hand, I don't know if there's a relationship that grates on me as completely as the Michael/Walt relationship does, and this episode pretty much confirmed that for me. So, kudos to David Fury for a compelling 40-some-odd minutes of television that still manages to annoy me.
Michael Line We'll All Come To Resent: "Wallt! WAAAALT! ......WAAAALLLLT!"
That's the first dialogue of the episode, and it could not be a more fitting 'introduction' to this father/son story, especially since those lines will, for all intents and purposes, end up becoming Michael's sole means of communication in Season Two. Much like some species of birds, Michael will learn to modulate his WAAAAALLLTT calls to express a range of emotions: angst (because they took his boy), sadness (because they have his boy), rage (because he let them take his boy)....the list goes on and on.
But that's Season Two. And it's only with the benefit of hind/foresight that I'm able to be as sarcastic about Michael as I am. Let's face it - Harold Perrineau is a pretty fine actor, and he does a great job with his material - especially this episode. We get to see all sides of Michael - his over-protectiveness, his cluelessness, his pride, his humility, his humor, his anger, his sadness, and more than David Fury's script (which is good in places, but could have been very average in another actor's hands), Perrineau makes this one resonate.
There are two basic story strands to "Special": (1) Michael and Walt's pre-Island history and (2) a danger-fraught opportunity for Walt and Michael to bond and for Michael to stop baring his teeth at Locke on the Island. As a rule, and contrary to most, I've often found the on-Island stuff on this show more compelling than the flashbacks. This is true even in Season One, where the flashbacks are (again, as a general rule) freakin' great. So it surprised me that the opposite was true for me as regards this episode. "Special" soars when it's off the Island, and becomes more mundane when it returns to the Land of the Lost.
I'd chalk most of the reasoning for this up to the benefits and detriments of compression. On the one hand, compressing a story down to its fundamentals gives us Michael's enormously heartbreaking back-story, and the amount of time we spend in each period of Michael's life feels like just enough. It's a marvelous example of storytelling economy. On the other hand, compression can result in all of Michael and Walt's issues being dealt with due to sudden Polar Bear Attack.
On the Island Walt is continually drawn to Locke, and Locke thinks Walt is ‘special’ (yet again, our favorite Col. Kurtz displays a remarkable gift for seeing what’s useful and not useful in a person). When we first see them both Locke is teaching Walt to throw a knife while Boone, Locke’s Lackey, looks on. Locke instructs Walt to ‘see’ the knife striking the target in his mind, and, lo and behold, Walt nails that sucker dead-center on the next throw. It’s evident right away that there is in fact something special about Walt, and this line stands out:
Walt: “It was weird. I actually saw it, like in my mind or something.”
Michael is ticked because Locke is usurping his authority as a father, even if that usurpation isn’t conscious or intentional, and pretty much originates from Walt’s obvious need for a strong father figure, not Locke’s need for a kid. Locke even goes so far as to give Walt a mini-lecture on respecting his father, which, given Locke’s daddy-issues, is sad and poignant and hilarious all at once.
Interesting Michael Line (to Walt): “When I was your age I used to trace comic books. Taught myself about perspective. You know what perspective is?”
Prior to his Polar Bear Redemption Moment, it’s clear that Michael doesn’t have perspective – at least as the word relates to his relationship with his son. Well done, Fury.
Because of this mixture of protectiveness, jealousy and loss of perspective, Michael threatens Locke and orders him to stay away from ‘his boy’ - first with a knife, then with just the promise of death. Neither instance does much to prove Michael’s basic sanity, though it does help illustrate the mental toll that living on the Island is causing some of these people. It also nicely foreshadows the lengths to which Michael will prove capable of going in order to get his son back in Season Two.
Because Michael is ridiculously controlling (so controlling that he won’t even explain to Walt that they’re going to try building a raft – which is just ABSURD) and Locke is a Quiet Man Of The Jungle, Walt naturally gravitates toward Locke. And when Michael throws a tantrum about this for what seems like the 3rd or 4th time in this episode, Walt naturally lights out for the jungle. Because, let’s face it, without the benefit of hindsight, Michael seems like a total dick.
Naturally, once separated from the others, Walt is attacked by Polar Bear #2 (PB#1 having been shot and killed by Sawyer). Much like the Smoke Monster, Polar Bears appear to be pretty stymied by Banyan trees, although at least the bears try to claw at their prey from outside.
Michael and Locke learn to work together to save Walt’s life, and they all learn a little something about themselves. Awwww.
Some notable details:
Michael gives Locke’s knife – the one he’s been denying Walt all episode –to his son by dropping it from above during the Polar Bear attack. This is nice symbolism, and not too crudely telegraphed for my taste. Michael stabs the bear, and seemingly leaves Locke’s knife inside it, but the bear runs away very much not-dead…..presumably living to maul Eko another day.
Michael comes up with the idea for the raft in this episode, and no one is impressed.
The Spanish comic book that Walt finds is certainly evocative, lingering on illustrations of a captured, vicious-looking creature (hints toward the imprisonment of the MiB?), an object that is either a snowbound dome or a crashed space ship (hints about the end of Season Two and/or the nature of the Island?) and a Polar Bear (look out, Walt!).
The entire time I was watching this episode, one thought kept flashing through my mind: “Yeah, but what about Claire?!” It’s officially stated that as of the events of “Special,” Claire has been missing for over a week, and yet no one has done a damned thing about it. We can, I think, excuse Charlie’s inaction because he very nearly died at the hands of her kidnapper and, as brave or concerned as he might be, he might also be very understandably worried about being brutally murdered again. But Jack, Locke, Kate and the others on 815 have no such excuse, really. This is officially Lost’s first major WTF patch. I suppose “Live together or die alone” really only applies when Jack’s part of the equation?
This frustration was compounded by Jack’s comment to Charlie that “we all want to find Claire, but there’s no sense going into the jungle in the middle of the night.” Well, that’s fine. How about going in during the middle of the day? Or, like, ever?
According to Sayid, Rousseau’s maps contain a secretive ‘hidden’ map that illustrates the location of something mysterious, presumably the Black Rock. Was I the only one who initially took this name literally?
Speaking of Claire, Charlie is looking for her diary – thus marking the beginning of his evolution into CreepyCharlie. And of course, Sawyer has Claire’s diary. Because Sawyer has everything – except the common sense to know that this plot-device is rapidly running dry. Despite this, Mr. Ford remains the go-to man for sarcastic, spot-on character commentary.
Great Sawyer Line: “Dear diary: I’m getting’ real freaked out by that has-been pop star. I think he’s stalking me.”
Great Charlie Line (because it’s obviously not just bravado): “You hit like a ponce.”
The business with Charlie attempting to fight his urge to read the diary is really cute. Nice work, Monaghan.
Once Charlie breaks down and reads it, we get a truly eerie piece of exposition that may tie heavily into the later mythology that the show established, or it may not tie in at all:Charlie, reading from Claire’s diary:
“I had that weird dream again – the one with the Black Rock in it. I tried to leave it, but it wouldn’t let me.”
Four immediate thoughts on this intriguing bit: (1) I’d completely forgotten about it, (2) might this dream relate in some way to the fact that we’ve now seen Claire in ‘Jacob’s’ cabin, and possibly a prisoner of the MiB/Smokey?, (3) was the Black Rock initially supposed to be a larger portion of the show’s mythology, but downgraded once the Dharma Initiative came into play?, (4) will we see more about any of this dangling strand, since it’s obvious that neither the ship’s story, nor Claire’s story, are finished?
The episode closes with Boone and Locke out looking for Walt's dog (not Claire!). Only, who should stumble out of the jungle?...Claire! Thank god that they were out looking for a dog! And with that, I’ll end Part One of the Special Recap: “On-Island Edition.” Part Two: "Off-Island Edition," which will ask whether Michael was an abusive spouse, or if his ex-wife is simply a stand-in for satan, will be up shortly.