In flashback, the priest tells Charlie, “We all have our temptations, but giving into them, that’s your choice.” When Charlie’s brother Liam tells of the promise of a record contract, Charlie only agrees to proceed with the band if they can agree to walk away if things get too crazy. Charlie is keenly aware of the potential for bad things to come along with good things. Much to say about this moment.
First, before finding out Liam’s news, Charlie says he’s made his choice and knows he must quit the band. In Charlie’s world, the choice is between doing right and good on one hand and, on the other hand, doing what he wants, what he’s passionate about, what he’s good at. Is this a real choice? Is Charlie mistaken about just what temptation is? Shouldn’t there be a way to achieve a win-win between what works for him and what is perceived as good by others?
Secondly, on some level, we don’t have as much choice as we may like in terms of certain temptations. The physiological effects of heroin seem to deny Charlie some of his ability to choose. Likewise, the assumption that most of the survivors have that being off the island would be inherently better than staying on it also denies them some ability to choose, to understand their choices. In the end, it is true, we choose to give into our temptations, but it’s only once we can see our temptations for what they are and truly understand the alternatives that we can be truly free to choose, to give in or not.
Finally, there is power in the notion of walking away. Charlie hopes to find the win-win, to pursue the band while maintaining his values. He is willing to walk away if he gets to a point where he feels he cannot do this. This resonates strongly with Daniel Quinn’s suggestion that people walk away from civilization, acknowledging it not as evil but as something that brings much difficulty along with the benefits we perceive in it. When a situation cannot be resolved and one is left to decide between fighting and fleeing, if one cannot find a way to win, walking away is the only option, to try to fight another day and seek a win-win somewhere else.
Locke makes Charlie have a choice about the drugs. He believes Charlie is stronger than he thinks. Locke has seen himself confront things he didn’t think himself ready to — losing the use of his legs. He has seen himself made stronger by the island, in ways he could never have imagined previously. He has good reason to believe that people are stronger than the realize and can confront and move through and past their obstacles.
Kate to Sawyer: “It must be exhausting. Living like a parasite. Always taking, never giving.” Sawyer, a pack rat, claims ownership of things simply because he takes them. He holds things hostage, negotiating how he can get things for himself in exchange for what others want. Through his accumulation of material goods and sense of private property, Sawyer is recreating off-island hierarchy more than perhaps anyone else on the island.
Jin tells Sun, “What are you wearing? It’s indecent. Cover yourself.” She finally stands up: “It’s too hot.” Now that she has saved him from his imprisonment, she feels empowered and can assert herself. When she conceded, she met him on a common ground that she didn’t like. She is now moving somewhere else and saying, in effect, that Jin must himself move and change in order to find a new common ground with her.
Charlie’s temper — his yelling — brought the cave down. The cave may have been weak anyway, but the cave-in was spurred by Charlie. Weaknesses are only exploited when someone acts out against them before there is an opportunity to provide support for the weakness — in the cave, and in people.
At the cave, there is a leadership issue. Jack is trapped. Locke is away hunting. Others are away, and someone must assert some kind of leadership. Michael draws on his relevant construction experience. He is immediately engaged, using his knowledge and ability to guide the others in working with the broken structure of the cave, just as Jack did when applying his medical abilities right when the plane crashed. Crisis calls for action, and those who are able to step up and offer the best of who they are can make a difference for others.
Charlie finds Locke to ask for the drugs again, but Locke points out the nearby moth cocoon. If he opened the cocoon with his knife, the moth would die, too weak to live. The struggle to get out is what strengths the moth and prepares it for life. Charlie realizes he must face a struggle and volunteers to go in after Jack, noting that so many others are accountable to someone else — a husband, a sister, a son. He’s got nobody on the island and implores the others: “Let me do this.” This particular struggle is all the more important because he believes on some level that Jack is only in danger because of Charlie’s own temper. He is out not only to strengthen but also to redeem himself.
In the cave, the confined space reminds him of another. Flashback to Charlie going through a crowded backstage hallway. He seems uncomfotable. Claustrophobic. He goes to confront Liam, saying that Liam is killing himself with drugs and it is time to walk away as they’d promised each other. Liam says they there is nothing to walk away to and that Charlie is no use if he’s not in the band. This, too, resonates with Quinn, who offers something to walk away, who knows that people can’t move beyond civilization unless they have something else to walk toward. At this moment, despite his pain over the current situation, Charlie has no idea what could exist for him outside the band. He cries, trying heroin for the first time. He admits defeat — he cannot win in the band, nor does he know how to win outside the band, so his only remaining option is to accept that he has lost, to stay with the loss, and to cover up the resulting pain with drugs. For Charlie, the drugs are not recreational. Ironically, given that he just said Liam was killing himself with it, the drugs are Charlie’s only means for survival in the face of no other perceived options — just as so many in civilization turn to escapist activities as their only means of getting through what they perceive to be unpleasant lives with no alternatives.
On the island, Charlie goes through a related trial. He is traveling through a confined, uncomfortable place. At the end of the path lies another man, someone with whom he had a great disagreement, and someone he now feels compelled to confront, no matter how difficult, so that he can try to save that other person. But there is a crucial inversion. Liam brought the drugs on himself, Charlie wants to save him from the drugs but ends up taking the drugs on himself as well. In the cave, it was Charlie who brought the danger upon Jack. Because he is responsible, it is all the more crucial that he succeed now where he failed before. He must make sure that both he and Jack get out of harm’s way, instead of allowing himself and the other to both have danger get the best of them.
Backstage, he could only point out that Liam was killing himself, and that he therefore wanted to walk away. In the cave, Charlie say, “I’m here to rescue you.” He know Jack is not to blame, and he is here to make things better instead of just leaving. He faces trials. Going into harm’s way himself, he could get trapped and killed along with Jack. When Jack’s shoulder turns out to have been dislocated, Charlie doesn’t think he can pop it in. But just as when Jack helped Kate to stitch up Jack’s own wound, Jack is here to help Charlie perform this medical procedure on Jack himself. He tells Charlie that he can do it, that he is more capable than he realizes — echoing Locke’s own assessment of Charlie. With Jack’s shoulder, Charlie literally sets things right.
Flashback, Liam is cleaned up, but Charlie wants a comeback. “They won’t book DriveShaft without you.” Liam can’t get back into that scene, and is dismayed to find Charlie is still using drugs. Charlie puts the blame on Liam, saying that he only starting because of Liam. Was it Charlie’s choice to give into temptation, when he truly saw no alternatives at that point? Liam’s reaction is not to say that Charlie did it to himself. He understands that Charlie would not have turned to drugs if it weren’t for Liam’s own telling Charlie that he would be worthless outside the band. Liam offers to have Charlie stay and get help. He had somehow found a way to do it for himself, and now he knows that helping Charlie quite may be the only way that he can redeem himself in Charlie’s eyes, and in his own eyes. Charlie won’t have it, though. As so often is the case in Lost, there is no clear good or evil here. Charlie only knows how to have the music along with drugs now, and that is because of Liam. But music remains paramount to Charlie, and now Liam denies even that to him. Liam fails to convince Charlie to stay and clean up, but he also fails to help Charlie maintain the music he loves.
Charlie is concerned that Jack thinks him useless — as Liam thought him useless outside the band. But Jack assures him that he’s not useless, that it took a lot of guts to come into the cave after Jack. The recent circumstance haven’t called as much for Charlie’s talent for music as for others’ talents. But his lightheartedness has been appreciated in the midst of crisis, and now he is showing himself to have more in him as well. The cave then reminds Charlie of a claustrophobic confession booth — we are reminded that this is all about Charlie confronting himself and trying to get out the other side rather than retreat or be consumed in the process. And just at that moment, Charlie follows a moth to find a new way out of the cave. Jack tells the others, “Charlie found a way out.” Hurley: “Dude, you rock” — music isn’t the only way Charlie can rock.
Sayid is knocked out just as they are about to triangulate the distress signal. Is this somehow the island once again not wanting to be seen? Later we’ll find out it was Locke, who says he was trying to protect the group — why pursue a distress signal that warns that something killed everyone? Locke’s relationship with the island, though, makes the action somehow seem to fit into the island’s continued “efforts” to keep the outside at bay.
Walt says that the caves make for a cool place and wants to live here. Michael’s response is to look at Sun. We know that he wants to save Walt, to get Walt off the island. In this one moment, Michael is pondering avoiding all possible confrontation. Sun and Jin are moving here, and he has differences with them. The beach is the choice for those who want to be rescued, which is his priority, so why move to the caves just because they are cool? He thinks he knows best for Walt, and so he does not want to honor Walt’s request. It doesn’t matter that Walt has been moved around all his life and has never gotten to pick where to live, Michael cannot yet confront whatever in him makes him an authoritarian parent. And in the end, the caves, compared to the beach, represent embracing the island. And so, in this moment, thinking about avoiding these other confrontations, the prospect of staying here means the prospect of having to confront all that the island might ever make him confront, all he might ever have to confront in himself. Michael doesn’t seem into the idea.
Charlie comes over to ask Locke for the drugs, only to toss them into the fire. He’s made is choice, and Locke is proud, “Always knew you could do it.” He has come over with his sweatshirt hood up over his head, looking almost like a monk having made a powerful religious decision. But his guitar has been found — finally, here, Charlie has the opportunity to embrace his music again without drugs having to go along with it. He sees the moth again, and he knows that he has become stronger, having gotten out of a cocoon of his own.
But there is seldom just one cocoon for each character. Charlie will have to go through the unpleasantness of withdrawal from his heroin addiction. Others will have their own cocoons to get out of. And the fact that this powerful notion, of the moth getting stronger through the struggle to become free, is brought up here in this episode about an addict poses a crucial question: In what ways are the other characters addicts themselves? In what ways are things that we wouldn’t normally recognize as addiction actually very much the same in terms of the way we repeatedly cling to what is unhealthy?