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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the LOST episode “Numbers", which originally aired on March 2nd, 2005.
Previously on LOST: Sayid escapes from Rousseau with some of her notes and maps. He reports back to the camp that the woman has a stash of batteries, and that she is responsible for the mysterious transmission being broadcast.
I’ve always viewed Hugo “Hurley” Reyes as being the audience’s representative on LOST. Much like C-3PO and R2-D2 provide a sense of gravity to the fantastical world of Star Wars, Hurley keeps LOST relatable to the viewer through his casual observation of the bizarre events happening on the island. He’s not a life-saving doctor like Jack or a sexy bad boy like Sawyer, he consumes his music via a portable CD player instead of creating it like former rock star Charlie Pace. He eats his share of boar meat but leaves the hunting to John Locke, and lacks the ambition to build an escape raft like Michael. Hurley is just…there, he’s present, but has yet to take an active role in the narrative. But the character's popularity is undisputed, I’ve spent more hours than I can count listening to LOST podcasts and reading message boards dedicated to the show and can’t think of a single ounce of shade being thrown in Hurley’s direction. The character is universally-beloved by fans of the show, largely in part to the efforts of Jorge Garcia.
Up to this point the most-remarkable thing about Hurley is his size, but “Numbers” puts him in the spotlight and demands that he play a larger role in the narrative. And Hurley doesn’t waste the opportunity, not only does this episode flesh out his character it introduces one of the show’s biggest mysteries by introducing a series of numbers that would go on to haunt the minds of LOST viewers for years to come. And that’s a big part of what makes the show special, it’s simultaneously able to serve as character drama and fantasy adventure, and while certainly episodes put the emphasis on one aspect or the other rarely is a chapter completely devoid of both flavors.
The on-island events being with Hurley taking note of a series of numbers on one of the documents Sayid stole from Danielle Rousseau, which drives him into an obsessive panic. It doesn’t take the show long to clue us in as to why he finds 4-8-15-16-23-42 to be so terrifying, as through the episode’s flashbacks we learn that Hurley used these numbers to win a jackpot lottery. While this initially appears to be a positive thing, Hurley quickly discovers that his good luck carried severe consequences for those around him. While being interviewed by the local news his grandfather drops dead of a heart attack, the new home he purchases for his mother spontaneously combusts while she watches from the ground with a broken ankle, and Hurley himself is falsely-arrested on drug charges.
Desperate for answers, Hurley visits a mental institution to see a patient named Leonard, who is caught in an endless loop of repeating the numbers. The only thing that snaps Leonard out of his trance is Hurley’s revelation that he used the numbers to win the lottery, which causes Leonard to flip out until the hospital staff restrains him. As he’s dragged away he shouts “Sam Toomey” and “Australia”, cluing us into how Hurley ended up on Oceanic Flight 815. His visit to Australia initially produces a dead end as Toomey has been dead for four years, but Toomey’s wife ends up providing some valuable information. It turns out that Toomey and Leonard had spent time together in a remote listening station where they heard the number sequence repeating over and over again. Like Hurley, Toomey used the numbers for profit and found himself the victim of bad fortune, including getting into a car crash that took his wife’s leg. Toomey’s panic grew so out of control that he committed suicide, and while Mrs. Toomey laughs off the suggestion that the numbers were responsible we the viewer can’t help but wonder if death is the only way out for our beloved Hurley.
Believing that Rousseau can provide insight into the numbers, Hurley retraces Sayid’s steps unite he finds the big cable on the beach. It isn’t long before he finds himself ensnared in one of the French woman’s booby traps, this one a pressure-sensitive plate that’s connected to some shrapnel. By this point Sayid, Jack, and Charlie, who were on a quest to get a battery from Rousseau, have caught up with Hurley. Sayid advises him to stay put, advice that Hurley chooses to ignore as he lives up to his claim that he’s spry enough to avoid the trap.
After a rope bridge breaks Charlie and Hurley find themselves separated from Jack and Sayid, a symbolic severing of two characters that aren’t known for being action heroes from a pair of natural leaders. Now lost in the jungle they’re soon caught in the crosshairs of Rousseau’s rifle, and in the confusion they find themselves split up with Hurley running into the mad French woman herself. Rousseau is every bit as aggressive with him as she was with Sayid, but for the first time we see Hurley display some backbone as he refuses to be pushed around. He demands some answers regarding the numbers which Rousseau provides, telling him that she wrote the sequence down after hearing it repeated over and over again when her boat crashed on the island. Given that she’s been shipwrecked for sixteen years this almost certainly means the transmission she heard was the same one received by Toomey and Leonard, adding yet another layer to the LOST mythology.
A pair of minor subplots pop up in “Numbers”, although neither one is particularly captivating. Michael and Jin are hard at work on raft 2.0, and while the communication barrier remains their relationship is quickly moving away from antagonistic. Poor Sun can only watch from a distance as her husband continues to give her the cold shoulder for the perceived betrayal we saw last week. Locke asks Claire to assist him as he builds what we’re initially meant to believe is some kind of hunting trap, but turns out to be a cradle for her unborn baby. The big takeaway from this subplot is that Locke continues to probe Claire for information on her abduction at the hands of the Others, but unfortunately for him she still can’t remember her brief time away from the survivor camp.
“Numbers” is a shining example of why LOST is so much more than a television show, and why it was able to elevate itself above its peers and become a cultural phenomenon. I will forever have “4-8-15-16-23-42” burned into my brain, it’s as vivid in my memory as my daughter’s birthday and the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The seemingly-random order of digits sparked endless theories as to what their meaning was, inspiring some of the best LOST discussions during the show’s initial run. Knowing how the story plays out hasn’t diminished the magic of the number sequence, which remains one of the most-significant pop culture references of this millennium. And the episode's closing shot, which reveals that the numbers are stamped onto the hatch that Locke and Boone are trying to crack open, makes it obvious that the sequence is set to play a larger role in this story.
Next week on LOST: “Deus Ex Machina”, another episode dedicated to the enigmatic John Locke.