Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

The Lost Book Club: Catch-22

I love it when I catch a break in my effort to read and write about all the books on Lost. The latest break comes from last week’s “Catch-22.” Not only was the episode named for Joseph Heller’s brilliant antiwar novel, but one character – the mysterious parachutist – was even in possession of a copy, albeit the Portuguese translation, Ardil-22.

I read this book a few times in college and even devoted a large amount of time in grad school to studying the film. Naturally, I was pleased when Lost served up a book I already know and love.

Catch-22 is about the absurdities of life on a World War II airbase on the Italian island of Pianosa. The central character, Captain Yossarian, is a bombardier who wants out of the war because, well, millions of people are trying to kill him. Exacerbating his paranoia is the fact that each time his squadron completes the required number of missions, the number required is increased, creating a hopeless situation for the airmen.

Yossarian fakes illnesses and ultimately tries to get discharged on the basis of insanity, but in one of the novel’s many catch-22’s he is informed that trying to avoid flying combat missions is an act of pure sanity and therefore the harder he tries to prove he’s insane the more sane he appears.

There are a number of similarly circular and impossible situations that crop up throughout the book, each one deeply absurd and highlighting the ultimate absurdity of war and the immorality of those who profit from it.

It’s a great read and one that makes you laugh an uncomfortable sort of laughter. The kind of laughter born of pain and disgust.

On to Lost

Like Lost, Catch-22 is a nonlinear narrative, often relying on flashbacks – particularly one in which Yossarian comforts a dying tail gunner – that are repeated, each time revealing new information. They’re also both about people stuck on an island.

The episode in which it occurs is a Desmond-centric episode in which Desmond gets one of his glimpses of a possible future. In his flashes, it seems that Charlie will die, but Desmond will be reunited with the love of his life, Penny Widmore, who may be coming to island to rescue him.

This situation presents Desmond with a terrible choice: Save Charlie and risk changing the course of the future in which case Penny won’t show up, or let Charlie die – essentially sacrificing a friend for his own happiness. Desmond ultimately decides to save Charlie and when they finally find the mysterious parachutist who should be Penny, it is instead some woman with a copy of Ardil-22 and a picture of Desmond and Penny.

The big unanswered question, of course is did Desmond change the future by saving Charlie? Can Desmond even affect the future? As Hurley says, his super power is kind of lame, especially if all it can do is leave Desmond stuck in the catch-22 wherein his only hope of being rescued is in sacrificing a friend.

At the end of Catch-22, Yossarian is busted for being AWOL, but he is given an opportunity to save himself and receive an honorable discharge if he will speak highly of and praise the policies of his crooked superiors. He ultimately refuses to sacrifice his fellow airmen just to save himself. Is this Desmond’s choice? Will he sacrifice the Oceanic 815 survivors to save himself or will he throw his lot in with theirs in an effort to save them all?

Last night’s episode, “DOC” (which stands for date of conception) contains its own catch-22’s (this time for Sun and possibly Juliet) along with one of Lost’s biggest wtf moments when the mysterious parachutist from the outside world informs Hurley that Oceanic 815 had been found and that everyone on board was killed. Holy living dead, Batman, that’s quite a bombshell. It kind of makes the whole show a sort of catch-22, as in, “hey we got off the island, but oh crap, we’re dead.” This leaves me thinking that the time warp theories are probably on the right track. Although it does also kind of point back toward the supposedly debunked purgatory theory, which is suggested by a large number of the Lost books from seasons 1 and 2.

I still say the island is a metaphorical purgatory, if not the real one (???).

For some interesting write-ups of “DOC,” check out:

  • Dorkeriffic (great name for a blog, btw) where some interesting questions are posed
  • Magic Lamp where Steve wonders if there is some kind of military op going on based on the parachutist’s gear
  • Brian at BRIAN!!! Top Marks for Not Tryin’ has a good analysis with some interesting thoughts about some of the dialog
  • The Atomic Blowtorch has some thoughts about Mikhail
  • John at Critical Myth wonders if the the-crash-was-planned theory is back on the table

And, I’m still working on Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark from “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” Look for that post next week.

Click here for a list of my other Lost book posts.

4 Comments

  1. Great insight relating Lost to Catch-22. I suppose the writers made a pretty clear connection, but I hadn’t thought about the similarities in the actual stories. Catch-22 is a phenomenal book. I remember being blown away by one of the later chapters that described a war torn city.

    I also appreciate your linking back to our blog. Isn’t Web 2.0 somethin’!

  2. Thanks for writing up one of my favorites! I was excited when I saw that in the episode last week, ’cause I knew you’d have to write about it. 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed this post – I’ll be linking to it the next time I blog about Lost.

  4. Erich, the chapter you’re referring to is when Yossarian walks through the streets of Rome and witnesses all the various cruelties of man. It’s one of my favorite bits of writing.

    Heather, I think you summed it up when you said I’d “have to write about it.”

    Mark, Thanks. I appreciate the link.

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