Given the title of last night’s episode, it seems worth noting that going into it, I was really sure that I loved Hugo. Or even liked him that much. On past seasons of Lost, he’s played an important role as the guy who actually admits how crazy everything is, who focuses on the importance of feeding everyone, who notices, unlike anyone else on that crazy island, that those enormous swathes of green hillsides would make an awesome golf course. Hello, audience – meet Hurley, your inner-fictional audience stand-in. This island is crazy! And sometimes funny! And why do we all need to keep running through the jungle?! There have been lots of other things going on with his character, of course – his bit with the numbers was one of the earliest cues in the first season that the island isn’t just a magical scary isolated place, but actually has some kind of magical scary influence throughout these peoples’ lives. Even then, though, the numbers were sort of satisfying, in their totally crazymaking way. The numbers were part of a justification for the entire premise of the show, which wasn’t just showing you random flashbacks about these characters’ lives. The flashbacks developed the audiences’ understanding of who these people are, but they also had some important connections to whatever the heck was going on back on the island. I’ll always remember that moment when Hurley sees the numbers on the hatch door and completely loses his mind. It was one of those scenes that first began to gesture toward the bigger picture mystery that Lost would be unraveling.
Recently, Hurley’s been a lot less appealing. He’s still the funny side-character with a hefty dose of weird, but as he’s grown closer to Jacob and assumed the “dead people yell at me” mantle, he’s lost some of the relatable charm that helped ground the crazier bits of the show. It’s frustrating to see the court jester slowly transform into an unreadable mystic, even if the mystic still cracks the occasional Star Wars joke.
Which is why “Everybody Loves Hugo” was a pleasant surprise for me. Most of the flash-sideways have either capitalized on the things I already liked about characters on the island (Ben as a high school history teacher) or preserved the things that bugged me (Kate, running away, ugh). The flash-sideways on “Everybody Loves Hugo” was a chance for Hurley to be Original Recipe Hurley again: funny, confused, genial, self-doubting. At the same time, if Island Flavorz Hurley now has to be a leader who sees dead people, at least he was finally shifting that transformation into full gear, rather than just hanging back and running off to chat with Jacob occasionally.
So this Hurley-centric episode was good, and my faith in Hurley is at least rekindled, if not fully restored. But without question, the best parts of “Everybody Loves Hugo” came from Desmond. If I have trouble with Hurley as an all-seeing leader, I am totally on board with Desmond as resident mystic. I love that expression on his face that says, “I know what’s going on, I see the big picture,” because Desmond pulls it off so well, but really because there’s such a relief in believing that someone here can see the big picture. He’s bridging the two realities, he seems to be able to communicate or at least glean some instinctive impression of what’s happening in the sideways versions, and currently, he’s my big favorite moving forward. Which is totally fine, because c’mon now Lost, he is so obviously not dead at the bottom of that well.
The episode did have several other goodies, including that somewhat clunky reveal that the whispers are the souls of people who can’t move on. As Jason Mittell notes, that’s a pretty unsatisfying explanation for why they appear in moments of high suspense or why they seemed connected to the Others in the early seasons. It does look like a “be careful what you wish for” warning in TV land: you may say you want answers, but if this is what the answers look like, do you really want them? And just because I like contradicting my own better instincts: GAHH, who are those boys in the jungle who make Smokey so angry?! My current theory is that they’re the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, and that Smokey is actually Tinkerbell. Thoughts?