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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 “Special", which originally aired on January 19th, 2005.
Previously on LOST: There’s still no sign of Claire after she was kidnapped by Ethan, who the survivors know wasn’t on the flight. Young Walt is far more interested in spending time with John Locke than he is with his father Michael. Sayid and Shannon work together in an attempt to decipher the cryptic notes on Rousseau’s map.
While all the A-list survivors on LOST add their own flavor to the show, nobody can match what Michael and Walt bring to the story. While Jin and Sun have their own unique dynamic as the island’s only married couple, Michael and Walt provide a physical manifestation of one of LOST’s most heavily-used motifs: the inherent disconnect between fathers and sons. We’ve already seen two episodes that explore Jack’s dysfunctional relationship with his emotionally-manipulative father Christian, and while I won’t spoil anything at this point I promise that the show isn’t done exposing the cruelty that all too often exists between a father and his son.
The Michael we’ve seen up to this point has been a reluctant father, a man that feels shackled to the responsibly of having to take care of the island’s only child. When these episodes first aired back in 2004-05 Michael’s parenting was a bit of a punchline, often being mocked for his endless cries of “WAAAAAAAAALT” and stern proclamation “That’s my SON.” Walt’s presence has prevented him from being as helpful as he feels he could be, all too often the other survivors head out on an important mission that Michael wants to participate in but simply can’t. We’ve also seen him lean heavily on Sun as a babysitter, which reinforces the audience’s belief that Walt is little more than an inconvenience to his father, a barrier preventing him from contributing.
The flashback in “Special” reveals a far different person though, as we join a rather charismatic Michael and his girlfriend Susan as they shop for baby supplies. Michael has an almost childlike giddiness about him in this scene, telling his partner that no expense is too great for his son. We also discover why it’s so easy for him to make such a statement as Susan is the breadwinner in the relationship. She’s a lawyer with high earning potential while Michael is a struggling artist forced to take construction jobs to make ends meet, but this sacrifice doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm over the thought of being a father. The stark contrast between this Michael and the one we’ve gotten to know makes us wonder what happened to this man between the past and the present, and we don’t have to wait long for LOST to deliver the answer.
The next time we join Michael and Susan some time has passed, and while Susan’s career has taken off Michael’s has wilted. The seasonal construction work has dried up but he’s been earning his keep as a stay-at-home dad, but unfortunately this isn’t enough for Susan. She’s been offered a promising job in Amsterdam and wants to take infant Walt with her, effectively robbing Michael of all that is good in his life at the moment. Susan comes across as quite cruel in this scene, emotionally stabbing Michael by revealing that she has already taken the position, which shows just how little his feelings and input matter to her.
Things don’t get any better for poor Michael as a phone call from Susan reveals that she has not only moved on from him professionally, but has also started dating her boss Brian. While this is clearly a blow to Michael he’s still invested enough in his son to let Susan know he’s flying to Amsterdam to get Walt, a plan that is instantly derailed when a car hits him. Michael lands in the hospital where he uses his artistic talents to create postcards to send to Walt, eventually receiving a surprise visit from Susan. She tells him that she is taking care of all of his hospital bills, a favor that isn’t coming without a rather significant string attached. She wants to marry Brian and asks Michael to relinquish his parental rights to Walt, prompting Susan to question whether Michael is holding onto Walt for his son's benefit or for his own.
The next time jump is significant as Walt is now close to the age we’ve seen him on the island. Susan and Brian have moved to Australia at this point, and we get a distinct impression that Brian might not be totally invested in his adopted son. Walt desperately tries to get their attention to point out a bird he’s studying, but at the same time Susan begins to feel ill. While Brian attends to her a bird flies into the patio door, and as Brian inspects the corpse he tosses a nervous look in Walt’s direction. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the young boy display what appears to be telekinetic abilities, it was just a few episodes ago that he showed unbelievable luck on the backgammon board. Coupled with this episode's title, a phrase Locke has labeled Walt on multiple occasions, we can tell there's more to this young mna than a casual glance would reveal.
We return to New York where Michael opens his front door to find none other than the man who stole Susan from him. Brian informs Michael that Susan has died from a mysterious blood disorder that claimed her life in just two weeks, and that he needs Michael to take Walt back. It turns out Brian never had any interest in being a father, the adoption of Walt was fueled by nothing more than his desire to win Susan. Walt’s abilities have begun to terrify Brian, and even though Michael had finally come to terms with losing his son he accepts the plane ticket to Australia to reunite with the boy he no longer knows.
The on-island events this week are less-interesting than the outstanding flashback, as it basically boils down to Michael overcoming his own inadequacies as a father. From the earliest episodes Walt has gravitated towards John Locke, and what eight year old wouldn’t? Locke is interesting and mysterious, and given how disconnected Walt is from his biological father it only makes sense that the kid would look elsewhere for knowledge and approval. Michael loses his mind when he finds Locke teaching Walt how to toss a Rambo-like hunting knife, and tells both son and Locke to stay away from each other.
Michael decides that in order to truly raise Walt he needs to escape the island, and decides to build a raft by combining the remaining plane wreckage with the island’s raw materials. He demands that Walt assist him, but it isn’t long before his son disappears. Michael naturally assumes he has returned to Locke, but that proves false. In an attempt to extend an olive branch Locke offers to help find Walt, and the pair eventually find the young man cornered by a polar bear. Michael bravely confronts the predator, and just like he rescued Walt from a disinterested Brian he saves his son from the bear.
A couple of mini-plots accompany the Walt-Michael storyline, and while they don’t get a ton of screen time they both make the most of their opportunities. Sayid and Shannon take Rousseau’s map to Jack to show him the parts they’ve been able to translate. The map mentions something called the Black Rock, which neither the characters or the audience have seen so far.
Charlie and Kate confront Sawyer in an attempt to recover Claire’s diary (which is more important than actually looking for the missing woman apparently), and once they have it Charlie struggles with whether or not he should read it. His curiously eventually gets the best of him, and as he skims the pages looking for any mention of himself he reads that Claire had a dream about a “black rock”. Everything is starting to come together as we enter the home stretch of LOST’s first season. The episode ends with Locke and Boone searching for Vincent (is the dog ever not missing?), but after hearing a rustle in the jungle it’s Claire that appears looking rather worse for the wear. Where has she been? What happened to Ethan? Is the baby okay? We’ll have to wait until next week to hopefully get some answers.
Next week on LOST: “Homecoming”, another episode that explore Charlie’s backstory.