Retroview: 1.7 The Moth

Briefly, what happened?

With Locke retaining his drugs as a test of discipline, Charlie finds himself inadequate and despondent until he is called into action by rescuing Jack from a cave collapse. With respect of the group earned, Charlie burns his drugs. Meanwhile Sayid’s efforts to triangulate a signal are thwarted by an unknown assailant.

In flashback Charlie’s plight with the success of Driveshaft set against his brother’s drug addiction sees him as a washed-up, failed musician and drug addict unwilling to accept help from his now-clean brother.

Note: Retroview posts are written with full awareness of everything that happens during the entirety of LOST and will contain SPOILERS.

Thoughts and Analysis

I’ll be honest, I had a very dim opinion of The Moth. My memory had it as the episode that depicted Charlie’s success as a rock star appear unconvincing, the reasoning for his drug addiction lame and the overt symbolism of his struggle being paralleled with a moth in a cocoon so unsubtle it was a joke. If you asked me, quick as a flash, name the worst episode of Season One, the next two words would have been an unflinching response: “The Moth.”

Seen again in retroview, you know what? I’ve changed my mind. It’s not as bad as I thought. It’s got its problems, for sure, but my tainted memories were overlooking the good stuff that occurred. Front and centre, for one thing, ought to be Dominic Monaghan’s performance as Charlie. He shows a wide range here: from threatening anger when demanding his drugs, to a pitiful vulnerability when showing his weakness for the same drugs, and also to the conclusion of his character arc that sees him move from bravery (rescuing Jack) to self-worth (the boyishly stupid grin on his face when Hurley hugs him is worth the admission price of the episode all by itself).

I thought it an interesting and unappreciated aspect to LOST previously, but Dominic Monaghan (at the time of the show first airing he was easily the biggest name star) had been sidelined by the other actors in much the same manner as Charlie himself was on the Island. Charlie, the big rock star ego, expecting recognition and adulation and instead receiving marginalisation perhaps did carry parallels with Monaghan’s treatment in the cast. I should stress I am not suggesting that Monaghan was an egotist expecting recognition, rather the expectation would be that the ‘big’ name star would get a bigger, heroic role to play.

Dominic Monaghan was no more the leading man of LOST than Charlie was the respected leader of the Island survivors, despite any expectations. Credit indeed then the performance; when Monaghan’s and Charlie’s turn to stand in the spotlight came the result was well worth the wait.

The episode began with the surprise that Charlie was once a man of faith, to the extent that he was on the verge of quitting the band altogether in favour of a more pure life. (Loved the dialogue in the confession box, with Charlie confiding having “relations” with various women and then watching them have “relations” with each other.) I must admit that the religious aspect to Charlie was never really one that totally went over with me. Compare with Mr. Eko. Now there was a man that was far removed from a holy man – brutish, murderous and imposing. And yet he was wholly believable as a man of total faith. Charlie, not so much.

If the point was that Charlie lost his faith then it would make sense, but there was never the indication that he lost his faith at all. He didn’t turn his back on God, or choose atheism – instead he made a decision to pursue his passion for music and in doing so lost his way. The very last thing Charlie ever does whilst he lives is to sign off with the sign of the cross before he drowns.

Charlie is not a man that stopped believing, but he was a character that I couldn’t really believe possessed strong belief. Not, as stated, when compared to Mr. Eko as an example. The religious aspect of his character feels like a background forced upon him rather than one he naturally emerged from. There are certainly religious overtones in the nature of his choices dictating his morality. Never more famous an example exists than the matter of Eve making the choice to take a bite out of an apple, only for Charlie it wasn’t a snake that lead him down the path of temptation but his cheeky, grinning, blue-eyed brother, Liam.

Liam first appears slouching in the church, arms outstretched in a crucifix pose, but facing away. A faux image of purity masking sinister intent. He tells Charlie that they have a chance at the big time with a record deal just at the point Charlie was set to quit the music industry altogether. Charlie announces that they will go for it but with the caveat that if things get too crazy then he is willing to pull the plug. It’s here do I find a major sticking point of believability.

I mean, look, if Charlie had been extremely pious and virtuous and just so happened to be musically gifted (it’s expressed here that Charlie is the musician, Liam merely sings the songs, a dynamic that parallels them with the brothers Gallagher, of Oasis, which I shall make more of shortly) then his hardline stance on not wanting to be dragged into the chaos of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle would be acceptable. Yet Charlie has, literally by his own confession, just emerged from a hedonistic night of casual threesome sex (presumably not done sober, either). And for all his talk of turning his back on the band, the fact that the promise of a music deal turns him round in a heartbeat suggests that getting tired of struggling with the band was as much a reason to quit as anything to do with morality issues.

The fact of the matter is Charlie wasn’t a saint before he signed the record deal and so his ‘fall from grace’ feels a little forced. That Charlie is a religious person feels utterly superfluous to his motivations and choices during his downfall. I feel it would have made more sense for Liam to have been a stronger catalyst for what happened; this episode attempts to make that connections but, for me, doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Let’s consider the template from which Charlie and Liam, and Driveshaft, are drawn from. Quite specifically the inspiration was these two:

Liam and Noel Gallagher from the band Oasis. They are a Manchester band (like Driveshaft), fronted by two brothers (Noel and Liam Gallagher effectively transplanted as Charlie and, hey, Liam Pace) one of which took control musically (Noel/Charlie) and the other taking centre stage frontman duties (the two Liams). Even their hit song ‘(You All) Everybody’ has a traditional, MOR rock sound very much like early Oasis songs (their single ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ feels like the closest musical likeness – itself a derivative song borrowing a riff from an old T-Rex hit!).

I recall first time around this close likeness of Driveshaft with Oasis skirted too close to caricature for me. Possibly it’s because I was a big fan of Oasis back in the day (the first CD single I ever bought was ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’, and the first concert I ever went to was to see them, fact fans!) so to see a poor knock off imitation was naturally not going to sit right. Perhaps fans of the show who were oblivious of Oasis and therefore didn’t see the similarities were able to more easily buy in to Driveshaft as a realistic proposition – but all I could see was a near-caricature and it shattered my disbelief.

In Retroview the depiction of the band, onstage and backstage, actually fairs a little better. Indeed, I rather wish the episode could have spared a few more minutes of extra flashback time to letting us see more of the band. There’s a big vacuum in the LOST universe surrounding Driveshaft in their heyday. This episode is the only time we capture them at the height of their success, onstage, and arguably the rot has already begun to set in and their best days are behind them. In future episodes we’ll see Hurley and his friend flicking through records and dismissing them as “suckshaft” and see the band selling themselves out promoting baby products in advertisement endorsements, but we never see them at their peak. We never see them in the good days, when their sales went through the roof and they were happy. What we don’t get, ultimately, is a kind of empirical reference about how successful and seismic Driveshaft were on the musical landscape.

It’s important, I think, in understanding Charlie’s frame of mind. If he was as big a star as, say, Liam Gallagher, then it would be more understandable that he’d feel jilted by a lack of recognition from his fellow survivors. In the very first episode he assumed Kate knew who he was, and even sang his most famous song, and whilst it did jog a memory with her it registered zip with Jack. Same goes for a lot of the other survivors. So since we get no sense of just how famous Charlie once was it’s tricky to establish how far into obscurity he has fallen since.

It should also be taken into account that Charlie’s ego, and his inflated sense of self-importance feeds into his perception of how famous and important people ought to consider him. In the early seasons he is a character that will struggle to get over himself and his sense of entitlement – and it’s really only through Claire and Aaron will he surrender that selfishness and learn to care more about others than he does for himself, resulting in his committing the ultimate sacrifice and cementing himself as a legendary LOST character by having one of the best death scenes in the whole show.

In short, I suspect Charlie’s perception of his fame isn’t quantifiable to how famous he actually was. Never-the-less, he had more than modest success and I feel like LOST didn’t really give us a fair sense of that. I mean, how about some scenes when the Oceanic 6 returned home that might have suggested Charlie, and Driveshaft, had experienced a resurgence following his death? Like Kurt Cobain’s suicide, or Richey James’ disappearance, or Amy Winehouse’s death prompted fanaticism and posthumous infamy – and boosted record sales. I think that would have gone a long way, but LOST just didn’t seem interested – simply wanted a rock star with a religious background and a drug problem to create a conflicted character.

Charlie’s decision to turn to drugs is the big turning point of the episode and the one that still, for me, is seriously weak. Considering it will be a very defining quality for Charlie over the first two seasons especially (no sooner has he burned his drugs and endured the cold turkey does a Virgin Mary statue and plane load of heroin show up!) it’s not convincing enough. It was like they simply wanted to tick the box marked ‘Reason For Becoming A Drug Addict’ and came up with the fact that his brother did it and so Charlie did, too.

Don’t get me wrong, it could have worked. If there had been more scenes showing Liam and Charlie’s relationship breaking, their closeness being riven apart by Liam’s addiction to drugs, then there would have been justification to be mined out of it. If Liam provided more temptation, telling Charlie how wonderful it all was and that he was missing out on the time of his life, and that perhaps even for his musical creativity he needed to open his mind to new experiences and live the dream with him, all of that could have fed into the key moment where Charlie decided to hit the Class A.

But no, it didn’t play out like that. Charlie was in open disgust over his brother and his behaviour, how he had changed from the person he knew into this monstrous man whose ego and appetite for excess was blinding him from the promise they made right at the beginning. Charlie threatened to quit and Liam simply refused to allow it and so what does Charlie do? The natural response would be to just quit the band anyway! But no, a few taunts about Charlie’s inadequacy later, and he’s hitting the heroin.

The Moth took a good try at selling the idea that Charlie’s lack of self-esteem fuelled his need to find something to make him feel confident, but the conversion to hard drugs just felt far too heavy-handed. It might have been better to show Charlie stating he’d never become the man his brother had become and so made the flashback a tragic irony since we know that, by the time of the Island, he will become exactly that kind of man.

Instead the episode chose a different tragic irony, with Charlie turning to his now-clean, family man brother. The devil that had lead him astray had found the path to redemption and left his brother lost in hell..

On this horrible twist The Moth flashback was a success, and Charlie certainly cut a desolate figure, spurned from his own brother and locked into addiction before he boarded that fateful flight on Oceanic 815. If you can overlook, or seriously suspend your disbelief, the reason why Charlie became a drug addict then the episode, and Charlie’s terrible rise and fall from stardom makes for a meaty and compelling story. Of all the characters introduced in flashback form so far into Season One, his is easily the most complex and perhaps that’s why such short running times and snippets of backstory aren’t sophisticated enough to properly convey the full scope.

And so whilst I’m in a critical mode, let’s hit The Moth with charges of gross un-sophistication in its use of metaphor. Only the very hard-of-thinking would fail to appreciate that Charlie is being paralleled to a moth in this episode, and it’s not subtle and it’s not pretty.

Locke gets the metaphor ball rolling when showing Charlie the moth in its cocoon and stating he could help the moth out but then it would be too weak to survive by itself. Do you see? It’s the struggle that makes the moth fit for survival. And hey! I’ll be damned! Isn’t that the lesson that Charlie is being taught here, that he has to have the strength and resolve to turn down the drugs that are available to him if he is going to be able to kick the habit.

Wow. That’s, like, totally paralleled. And you know, if that scene had been the end of it then it would have been OK. Locke and the episode had made its point and we could let Charlie go ahead and struggle with his addiction and eventually overcome it and appreciate that, as a consequence, he would emerge stronger as a result. Only The Moth has other ideas. . .

A moth appears in the cave where Charlie and Jack are trapped and then shows them a potential way out. It’s curious that the moment Charlie notices the moth he figures that it means there’s a gap somewhere they can escape from, whereas the reasonably logical assumption would be that the moth had been trapped in the cave with them the whole time! But OK, whatever. Next we see Charlie struggling up through the rocks and busting improbably up out of the ground and, you know, doesn’t that strike you very much like a little baby moth breaking out of its cocoon?

OK, LOST. We get it. Charlie is like the moth. It was an OK parallel at first but, yeah, now you’re starting to push it. But LOST isn’t done. The end of the episode sees Charlie burn his drugs and then, in that revelatory moment of liberation, what does he see? The moth flying into the dark night, free! (Presumably this is the moth that was in the cocoon, and not the one that was in the cave. Or maybe they were one and the same. Personally I think cave moth was a different moth and the moth at the end was a newly-freed, fresh from its cocoon moth because if its not then the strained metaphor doesn’t even make any sense.)

As stated, the parallel metaphor is fine, but the sickly-sweet unsubtly of it is pitched a level of sophistication several leagues below the standard LOST ought to have been aiming for. It makes me cringe and want to hurriedly brush the whole episode under the carpet and forget about it.

Ah, but to sweep it all aside and forget about it would be to ignore the many positives the episode provides elsewhere. Michael is a character that fares well here. When the cave collapses he is able to use his engineering expertise to direct the survivors into digging a rescue tunnel.

In itself it’s not a big deal, but the act is made more special when viewed through Walt’s eyes. Moments after the tunnel collapses Walt suggests they should go and get “Mr. Locke” only for him to see his father spring into action and suddenly perceive him with a new sense of respect. It’s a really sweet moment and marks the turning point in their relationship. A small beat that makes a long lasting impact.

There is a stranger beat towards the end of the episode involving Michael, though. Walt is starting to like his life on the Island (a feeling that will ally him closer to Locke and also see him thwart the first attempts at building a raft) and he makes a remark about how the place is cool and asks Michael if they could live there. Michael’s response is strange: he says nothing and looks over at Sun for a lingering, meaningful moment.

I have to assume that from the very beginning (Michael running in and seeing Sun undressed, to discovering she can speak English) that there were serious plans to have a relationship emerge between Michael and Sun. All of the pieces have been slowly put in place to start working towards such an outcome. What is interesting in Retroview is picking up on all of these and, for future episodes, keeping an eye on how that develops.

I certainly don’t remember there being anything close to a romantic connection, although I do remember when Sun was pregnant I did wonder if the baby would turn out to be Michael’s and some flashbacks to this early period on the Island may reveal a burst of sexual passion had occurred between them. My feeling is that the show writers were leaning towards making something out of Michael and Sun and they ultimately veered away from it either because they wanted to maintain Jin and Sun’s relationship (which worked out to be a really smart move) and/or because they already had one love triangle with Jack, Kate and Sawyer and another one would have just been clutter. Again, I’d agree that was a smart decision.

Sawyer revealed a jealous and malicious streak in the love triangle this episode. He told Kate, after much delay and outright dismissing the idea that Sawyer could even think about comparing himself to Jack, that he was most likely dead in the caves. Instantly she was off to his rescue, very clearly defining where her allegiances are in the love triangle at this point. Sawyer is very much not in the frame and Jack very much is. She’ll change her mind a few times before the end!

With Sawyer left minding the rocket the episode could generate its best scene. Sayid required Sawyer to fire his rocket and the wouldn’t-trust-her-as-far-as-you-could-throw-her Shannon to fire hers. What I really liked here was that the tension and drama that ensued was generated out of familiarity with the characters that had been established. Seeing Sayid fire his rocket we watched with the dread feeling that one or possibly both of the people who were supposed to do their part wouldn’t follow through.

Shannon came through, albeit that she was idly chatting and had totally forgotten her duties. I liked that. Making her responsible for such a crucial failing would have felt like too cruel a blow. Meanwhile we know that Sawyer also lit his firework, although at the time Sayid believed it was Kate. To generate some mystery we didn’t see Sawyer actually light the fuse so creating the remote possibility that he was the unseen assailant that decked Sayid just when he was trying to triangulate the signal.

We know now that it was in fact Locke that delivered the blow to Sayid, in the first of various acts of sabotage to prevent any of our survivors from getting off the Island. There’s no getting around the fact that Locke is straddling the line between hero and villain during the first season. In this episode he tests Charlie’s mettle with drugs and, whilst it seems like tough love for Charlie’s betterment it should also be noted that he has earned Charlie’s trust in his judgement and become someone he can defer to.

It was no accident that in flashback Charlie’s priest, in the confession box, stated that the choices Charlie made would define him and then Locke would be the one to state the same sentiment. Locke is once more becoming a religious leader figure, practically goading Charlie into confession to earn his repentance. It started last episode, with the gift of the guitar, now this episode Locke has given Charlie strength and a clear conscience.

First time round, of course, we don’t know that Locke was the person who attacked Sayid, so LOST is rather cleverly shaping the audience into believing in him, too. Courtesy of his flashback story we see him as victim and object of pity, and now see him apparently benevolently hunting food for the group and weaning Charlie off his drug addiction. In retrospect people may remember that Locke and forget about the Locke that also in this same episode used Charlie as bait so he could hunt and trap a boar. That ruthlessness, that manipulative deviousness, tends to be overlooked.

The irony that Locke’s form will be utilised by Nameless and become the epitome of devious manipulation is all nicely seeded here; events now echoing into future seasons.

Last point of discussion, and it’s a small moment of dialogue that carries a lot of weight in Retroview. When Sayid and Kate were walking together they discussed the plane crash. Sayid made the very ‘Locke-like’ point that by every conceivable rationale there was no way they should have survived, least of all with little more than cuts and bruises.

Sayid’s comments do somewhat casually disregard the sizeable proportion of passengers that did die in the crash, though perhaps that only reinforces his incredulity. That so many people died, people that could have been sitting next to and around the survivors, it only exacerbates the miracle of their survival even more. Sayid doesn’t go on to make the conclusion aloud that there could be a higher power or reason to explain their survival but it’s evidently something that’s kicking around Sayid’s thoughts.

I don’t recall Sayid ever speaking out again about this matter, but that doesn’t necessarily make it feel false. I think most people having survived such a plane crash would naturally try and rationalise their survival and, when rationale is found wanting, find their minds wandering to grander ideas. I simply liked the fact that it wasn’t just Locke – that Sayid is also voicing his wonder. It’s important in the sense that, unlike Locke, Sayid hasn’t prevented this profound experience to deter him from the matter of taking every practical measure he can think of to try and find rescue. God himself could have held Sayid in the palm of his hand and safely deposited him on the beach and Sayid would still be marching into the jungle with an electrical gadget he has fashioned to try and triangulate the distress signal!

In conclusion then, I enjoyed The Moth more than I thought I would. What is evident is that the show was finding its feet after the introductory phase. The cave collapse and rescue betrayed a formulaic structure that LOST would, in later seasons, move away from but there’s a clear confidence in knowing who these characters are and where they are from – in this principle does the show find its strengths and lay its foundations.

Best Part

Whilst I got a warm and fuzzy out of seeing Charlie and Jack return to the group having escaped from the cave, the most intense moment was when Sayid lit his firework and waited to see if the others would follow suit so he could triangulate his signal. The drama played out on the apparent untrustworthiness of Shannon and Sawyer, making us fear the best laid plan would come unstuck, only for it to turn out to be an unpredictable attack that derailed the endeavour. It was a nicely executed build and pay off that was arguably more compelling than all that happened in the main storyline of the episode.


Keith said...

In-depth analysis! I was also a big fan of Oasis in the ‘90s(the best period for music IMO, certainly for Indie) also dutifully went out and bought every album they made since in the hope that they would recapture the magic, alas not to be. Hearing Charlie play the song ‘You On Everybody’ does make me cringe though, in the same way that ‘Unobtainium’ made me cringe watching Avatar.

Its always pretty difficult to portray a drunk(see Tom Cruise in anything) or a drug addict on screen without going for the clich├ęs of a person having something missing in their lives. The simple fact is that some people just Like getting off their face. That’s why Trainspotting worked so well, it even made us believe that Obi-Wan Kenobi could be a smack-head.

It shows how good a show lost is that I even felt the tension watching the bottle rocket storyline, knowing full well that the survivors have only just begun to scratch the surface of the islands mysteries.

Van said...

I initially watched the episode and found it brilliant. But I think you posted a rant a while ago that pointed out the ridiculuous and exaggerated references to the moth and it did make me think the episode was somewhat childish and dare I say cheesy.

I didn't really like the whole 'triangulating the signal' arc neither. It was way too unrealistic for me and very TV like - not sure if that makes much sense.

But for me the best part was Sayid's statement about how incredible their survival was. It also ensured the viewers that the writers appreciate the magnitute of the survival and would address it in future episodes.