‘Lost’: Baptism by fire

“Fire + Water”
Originally aired January 25, 2006

“Fire + Water” is one of those episodes that displeased a number of Lost fans when it aired. A lot of people disliked the dream/visions and thought that the episode didn’t really go anywhere or advance the story in any significant way. It’s one of the episodes that people point to when they complain about Season 2’s lack of cohesion or direction.

Personally, I was an apologist for the episode when it aired. I loved the exploration of faith in the episode: Charlie’s terrible struggle. Charlie has this painful need for people to believe him, despite the fact that no one has any reason to trust him. And while he can be irritating, I found Charlie’s story strange and moving. But I suppose if you were looking for an answer for the Smoke Monster or polar bears or any of the other mysteries, or if you wanted the story to move forward in a more linear fashion, you’d be disappointed.

That said, this is one of those episodes that I believe thematically pushes the series forward: it’s about discovering one’s greater purpose, the fine line between insanity and vision, faith and prophecy and salvation. And while it is a strange episode, almost a stand-alone moment in the Lost timeline, watching it in retrospect demonstrates that it had a much longer view of where the story would be taking us. We, the audience, just lacked the proper perspective.

Christmas morning, and Little Charlie, like children all around the world, comes downstairs (and beneath a print of The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio) ready for a present orgy.

the baptism of christ verrochio

But, alas, Little Charlie, that awesome Voltron, along with every other present under the tree? Little Liam’s. SORRY. And Little Charlie is very very sad until his mother reveals that Father Christmas has actually left him the BIGGEST most AWESOME present of all: a piano! And instead of being a typical 7-yer-old boy, Little Charlie doesn’t immediately yell, “Aw, man! Now I have to take lessons? I WANT A VOLTRON,” Little Charlie seems genuinely excited about the piano. Little Charlie ≠ my 7-year-old son.

But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, because as his mother points out, Charlie is “special” and talented and is going to get them all out of there one day. Now play a tune! Little Liam urges Little Charlie to play a song too, but when Little Charlie turns to look at Little Liam, it’s not Little Liam at all! Instead, Big Liam is sitting on the couch, in nothing but a diaper, playing with his Voltron, and encouraging Charlie to play a tune: Charlie can’t save them if he doesn’t play.

fire + water lost liam voltron diaper

See, cause, it’s not a flashback, or, maybe it kinda is, but not really, because it’s also a dream, but that’s not to say it didn’t happen, because it probably did, just not just like this with the part with Liam in a diaper, at least not right then but later … SIGH.

But back to the flashbackdream: Little Charlie is now Charlie, and his mother continues to encourage Charlie to play, but a man’s voice argues that music won’t get Charlie anywhere — Charlie needs a trade. This man (whose face we do not see) chops heads off of dolls on a butcher’s block. Which, you know, is a very lucrative trade. Just like plumbing.

fire + water lost charlie piano vision

Liam and Momma Pace keep up a “save us! save us!” chant until Charlie begins playing, and which point we realize that Charlie is playing the piano in the surf. Well, sure. Why not. He hears a baby cry, realizes it’s Aaron and that it’s coming from inside the piano, because, again, sure, why not. Charlie frantically tries to open the piano lid, but can’t manage to get it open before it washes out to sea. And then Charlie wakes up on the island.

But, before we get to what happens to him after that, let’s explore the actual flashbacks…

Lost note: Voltron! From what I remember about Voltron, which isn’t much, Voltron was actually a large robot made up of 5 separate robot lions? Or something? When the 5 robot lions (which actually had pilots) joined together, they created Voltron, Defender of the Universe. Kinda like the Power Rangers. Now, I might be extrapolating here, but could this be something like our Oceanic 6, and how they all have to go back to the island? They have to come together to become something larger than themselves. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Or something. I dunno.

At a hospital nursery, Charlie admires a baby in the baby aquarium, when his sister-in-law Karen approaches. The baby, a girl, is hers and Liam’s, and Karen named her after Charlie and Liam’s mother, Megan. Say, where is Liam? And Charlie mumbles some lie about Liam missing his plane because of a flat tire or some nonsense, and Karen appears to swallow this.

But we all know that’s not what happened to Liam, don’t we? No, Liam is passed out on Charlie’s couch, with a belt still tied around his arm having shot up. Again. Charlie wakes him up, informs Liam that he’s a father now, and orders him to the hospital to see his baby daughter. Oh, Liam.

And it’s certainly not the last time that Charlie will pull his brother’s fat out of the fire (although junkies don’t have much in the way of fat, do they? maybe not the best metaphor…). Driveshaft is filming a diaper commercial that involves them wearing diapers and cavorting around in a crib while singing, “You all everybutties!” Which, heh. And spot on for a one-hit-wonder band. But Liam’s a mess, shooting is stopped, and when Charlie refuses to drop Liam, the director fires the lot of them. Oh, Liam.

Lost note: This scene is CHOCK FULL of Easter eggs.

We have the stuffed polar bears in the crib with Driveshaft:

fire + water lost crib polar bear commercial

The Battersea Power Station which is used famously on another British band’s album cover: Pink Floyd’s Animals.

fire + water lost battersea station


And if you look carefully on the Battersea Station, you can see what is our very first Widmore clue: a sign for Widmore Construction.

Widmore industries battersea station lost fire + water

Back in Charlie’s flat, Liam is distressed because Karen’s kicked him out of the house after he dropped the baby. But considering Liam is usually a crumpled heap on the floor, the baby couldn’t have fallen that far, so, you know, no biggie. Charlie tries to comfort his brother by telling him that he’s been writing a new song about two brothers. And then? Proceeds to play a terrible song on the piano: “Funny now, you finally see me standing here/Funny now, I’m crying in the rain. All alone, I try to be invincible/Together now, we can be saved.” Crying in the rain? Really, Charlie? Really? But Liam likes the song, and is all: Yay! Driveshaft’s Back, Alright! And to celebrate, how about a little heroin? Oh, Liam.

Charlie returns to his flat one day to find the piano gone. See, Liam sold it? To finance a trip to Australia for himself and his family? So he could get clean? Sorry. Had to do it for his family. And Charlie’s all WAIT A MINIT! I’M YOUR FAMILY! BLIMEY! But Liam just walks away, piano money in hand. Oh, Liam.

But back on the island …

So, a love connection is brewing between Hurley and Libby, encouraged by Sawyer, no less. Hurley helps Libby with the laundry in the hatch, and as they flirt, it occurs to him that she looks familiar. Libby suggests that he remembers her from the plane when he stepped on her foot. But that’s not it, Hurley. That’s not it.

man of science man of faith washer and dryer

Lost note #1: Libby notes the washer and dryer seem newer than everything else in the hatch. This is in direct response to the fans and their insane attention to detail, who noticed that the appliances were from the 21st century when everything else in the hatch appears to be from the 70s. The real problem with the washer and dryer is that they are (supposedly) from 2005, when these events are still taking place in 2004. Libby’s comment and Hurley’s dismissal of them, are the writers’ subtle way of telling us that this was a goof, and to not worry our pretty little heads about it.

dave lost libby

Lost note #2: And of course, Libby’s story doesn’t hold water. Now, first of all, because we can’t pretend that we haven’t seen the rest of the season, we know that Libby appears in one of Hurley’s flashbacks at Santa Rosa. But! Even here, Libby’s story is obviously not the entire truth. Hurley sat towards the center of the plane, Libby sat in the tail section. How could Hurley have stepped on her foot as he was getting on the plane? I mean, I suppose since he was late for his flight, he could have gone towards the back of the plane to stow his suitcase, and then returned to his seat, but I’m fairly certain this is supposed to be a clue that Libby is not being entirely honest with Hurley about why it is he knows her. Not that we’re going to find out the truth of their real connection in the next two seasons. SIGH.

There is also some very boring Jater/Skater stuff that amounts to a whole lot of nothing. Sawyer points out to Kate that Jack and Ana-Lucia have been spending a lot of time together. Ana-Lucia asks Jack if he’s “hitting that,” meaning Kate. He says no. YAWN.

But back to Charlie. After he awakens from his flashbackdream mentioned earlier, Charlies initiates Operation Save the Baby!

Step One: Freak out the baby’s mother whom you’ve already alienated by lying about your drug stash. After waking up to find Claire and Locke spending time together, Charlie gets all jealous. He brings Claire some homemade diapers for the baby, and tries to weasel back into her life, but she’s not having it. But Charlie just wants things to go back to the way they were before! There is no before, Chahlie. They were strangers on the plane who became friends. Now you and your drugs buzz off.

So Charlie plays a little guitar on the beach when OH NOES! Aaron’s crib is suddenly in the ocean and drifting off to sea! Again! Charlie rushes out to the water! Again! And saves the baby. As he comes back to shore, things look … different, and Claire and his momma are on the beach dressed as angels from The Baptism of Christ print from his childhood home.

fire + water lost charlie vision plane

Claire and Momma urge Charlie that he must save the baby, save him Chahlie, over and over again. In the background, the Beechcraft crashes again, there is a flash of light, and a dove flies out of the jungle and out towards the ocean. And that is when Hurley emerges from the jungle, dressed as John the Baptist from the same painting, wondering what the heck Charlie is doing …

fire + wate hurley lost dream saint

… because it’s actually night on the island and there are no angels or Hurley the Baptists, and Charlie has commenced Step Two of Operation Save the Baby!: steal a baby and then wade out into the ocean with him. It’s not long before Claire is LOSING IT, and yelling that a DINGO ATE HER BABY, and everyone rushes to the beach where they find Charlie holding Aaron. Charlie tries to explain that he was dreaming, but that’s not really a good excuse for stealing a baby in the dead of night and taking him out for a swim, so Claire slaps him. Deservedly.

Step Three of Operation Save the Baby!: enlist others to your cause. Charlie heads over to the hatch to chat with Locke and attempt to persuade Locke to put in a good word for him with Claire. Locke is fairly certain that Charlie is using again, and Charlie gets all defensive that other people have visions, why can’t he without being accused of being high? He then assures Locke that he and Eko burned the Beechcraft and all the heroin therein. Which of course is a lie. Locke suggests Charlie give Claire a little time. Ya, that’s probably not going to happen.

Step Four of Operation Save the Baby!: seek spiritual guidance. Charlie approaches Mr. Eko who is busying marking trees that he “likes.” Charlie mentions the dreams to Mr. Eko, and after Mr. Eko stares at Charlie with significance, he suggests to Charlie that maybe the dreams mean that Charlie needs to, wait for it, save the baby.

Well, this just sends Charlie into a tizzy, and he storms over to Claire’s tent to yell at her that they have to baptize the baby. Fortunately, Kate’s there to shove Crazy Charlie away, but not before his point was made.

But all this can stress a hobbit out, which brings us to Step Five of Operation Save the Baby!: consider getting high. Charlie heads to his stash, cracks open a Mary and thinks RILLY RILLY hard about doing some horse, which is where Locke finds him. Well, “finds” might not be the right word as Locke actually followed Charlie. In any event: RUH-ROH! Locke announces that he’s not giving Charlie any more chances to choose to give up the drugs, he’s going to make the decisions for Charlie from here on out. And Locke loads up the Marys as Charlie argues that the Marys are his test, like Locke said! But Locke ain’t buying it, and stomps back off with Charlie’s heroin stash, as Charlie begs him not to tell Claire.

Locke heads back to camp, where Claire asks if it’d be cool if she moved into the hatch with Aaron, what with all the kidnapping hobbits running around on the beach and all. Locke discourages that idea but suggests that he move his camp a little closer to hers, which is reassuring to Claire. Claire then asks Locke what he knows about baptism, and Locke explains that baptism is a spiritual insurance plan, but Aaron needs no such thing as there is no danger. Charlie is just trying to save the baby because he can’t save himself. But Locke doesn’t tell Claire about the heroin. So, there’s that.

Step Six of Operation Save the Baby!: set a fire that endangers the entire camp. Which Charlie does. Right on cue, everyone begins running around going berserk, leaving Claire and Aaron on the beach, alone. Which is the perfect set up for:

Step Seven of Operation Save the Baby!: actually this is a redux of Step Two. Steal a baby and then wade out into the ocean with him. You know that saying about the definition of crazy being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Yeah. As everyone crowds around Charlie, he explains that he has to baptize the baby, like Mr. Eko said. Locke tries to intervene, but Charlie has had just about enough of John Locke and spits back at him that Locke is not Aaron’s father or family. Locke reminds Charlie that he isn’t either. Anyway, after a while of this, Charlie gives the baby back and that’s when Locke proceeds to give Charlie a beat down. Again, deservedly.

Step Eight, and final step of Operation Save the Baby!: brood. Jack offers to stitch Charlie’s wounds, and makes Charlie assure him that he’s not going to ever do Operation Save the Baby! ever again. Agreed. But it doesn’t mean Charlie isn’t going to be broody. You can’t make him stop doing that, Dr. Bossy.

But Charlie’s plan, which was so crazy it might just work, DOES WORK! That’s how crazy it was! Claire approaches Mr. Eko and asks him about baptism. Mr. Eko explains that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, a dove flew overhead, and this signified to John that he had cleansed Jesus of all his sins. Claire notes that she hasn’t been baptized either and wonders if something happened to her and Aaron, if it meant they wouldn’t be together. Mr. Eko responds, not if he baptized both of them. And then he does! Problem solved!

fire + water lost baptism aaron eko claire

And then Locke changes the lock on the armory, so he can stash Charlie’s heroin inside. Again! Problem solved!

Alright. Since this episode is so explicitly about baptism, we’re going to be talking a lot about it today. Mr. Eko? Showing his faux-priestliness again. See? Because? Jesus, according to, well, all Catholics? Was sinless. That’s kinda the point of Jesus. He wasn’t baptized to wash away his sins and get a fresh start–there were no sins to wash away.

Why, then, was Jesus baptized? Well, if you ask a dozen theologians, you’ll get a dozen different answers. (As I am not a theologian, forgive me if, like Mr. Eko, I get it wrong. I’m just repeating back what I’ve read elsewhere.) Jesus explains to John that it has something to do with “righteousness,” but who knows what that means, right? Some suggest that it has to do with Christ’s humanity. Others say that it was in preparation to become the Lamb of God, a sacrifice. Some believe that Jesus insisted on being baptized so as to consecrate the rite for Christians who came after him.

baptism of christ francesca

Still others point to the historical context of John’s baptismal rite: at this time in Israel, one could only offer a sacrifice for the remission of one’s sins in Jerusalem, and it was very expensive. John the Baptist was offering his baptismal services on the River Jordan for anyone who wanted to stop by — get a dunk in the water, wash away your sins. No sacrifice, no price. And symbolically, the baptized Jews then crossed the Jordan river, reentered the Promised Land anew. Very symbolic. Thus, when John baptized Jesus, whom he considered the fulfillment of his messianic prophecies, Jesus reentering Israel having been baptized symbolized the coming of a new Israel. Others suggest that as Gentiles had to be baptized as part of converting to Judaism, this was Jesus’s way of taking on the Holy Spirit, or something. And yet others suggest that it was symbolic of Jesus beginning his ministry. As the priests of Israel, starting with Aaron, had to be anointed with oil before they could assume their mantle, Christ had to be anointed before he could become a priest and begin his ministry.

This last one I find the most interesting in terms of relevance to Lost. For starters, we are referencing the biblical Aaron, which has obvious meaning on the show. Aaron, besides being the brother of Moses, was the first priest of Israel, and was given very specific instructions on what he and his sons were supposed to do to become a priest:

1 “This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests: Take a young bull and two rams without defect. 2 And from fine wheat flour, without yeast, make bread, and cakes mixed with oil, and wafers spread with oil. 3 Put them in a basket and present them in it–along with the bull and the two rams. 4 Then bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water. 5 Take the garments and dress Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod itself and the breastpiece. Fasten the ephod on him by its skillfully woven waistband. 6 Put the turban on his head and attach the sacred diadem to the turban. 7 Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head. 8 Bring his sons and dress them in tunics 9 and put headbands on them. Then tie sashes on Aaron and his sons. The priesthood is theirs by a lasting ordinance. In this way you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

And so, in this episode, Mr. Eko, a priest (fake or otherwise), anoints Aaron. Is it symbolic of cleansing Aaron’s sins? Or is he anointing Aaron as a priest of the island, perhaps? Just a thought.

Of course, we can’t dismiss the idea that the baptismal is to protect Aaron in the event of something tragic occurring. Claire worries, interestingly, that if Aaron were baptized, but she remained unbaptized, that if something were to happen to them, they wouldn’t be together in the afterlife. And what’s fascinating in light of season 4, is this is exactly what happens! Baby Aaron is spirited away to the City of Angels, and Claire is left behind–they are separated when that moment of passing from one life to another occurs.

Because the thing is, John Locke isn’t incorrect in his oversimplification of what baptism is: for Christians, baptism is a crucial rite to ensure that one will enter the Kingdom of Heaven after death. But it’s more than a get-into-heaven-free card. The ritual of baptism is a spiritual rebirth (I’m sure you know all this, but for the sake of comprehensiveness and hitting that 5,000 word mark …), the death of one life and the beginning of another. In John 3, Jesus very specifically explains that to enter Heaven, one must be reborn. This noob named Nicodemus is like, WAIT A MINUTE, what? You expect a man to climb back into his momma’s womb and be born again? And Jesus, because he’s Jesus, doesn’t call him a twit, but instead is like, IT’S A METAPHOR, I’m talking about being spiritually reborn. And then Nicodemus is all: Ohhhh. I get it. You aren’t physically reborn…

So, this rite, which we most often perform when someone is newly physically born, is a symbol of someone’s spiritual birth. A new life. Another chance. And, considering that the only rites we’ve seen performed on the island have been funeral rites, it’s a breath of fresh air, of hope, to see a rite that represents life and second chances. But going hand-in-hand with this birth symbol is a symbol of death — after all, one life must pass away for a new spiritual life to begin. You must wash away the past, burn it, so that the future can emerge from the ashes. Fire, like he one that Charlie sets to distract the rest of the camp, is like water, a symbol of destruction and creation. Regeneration. A fresh start.

(Side note: there’s an interesting passage in the Holy Saturday ceremony. Holy Saturday is the day between the Crucifixion of Christ and his Resurrection, the moment in Christ’s story when he was in between this world and the next one. The Belly of the Whale, if you will. The long and short of the ceremony is, the priest blesses a candle, the Paschal candle, which he then takes to the baptismal font, which he also blesses. There, he plunges the candle into the water three times, sanctifying the font. As Campbell explains: “The female water spiritually fructified with the male fire of the Holy Ghost is the Christian counterpart of the water of transformation known to all systems of religious imagery. This rite is a variant of the sacred marriage, which is the source-moment that generates and regenerates the world and man…” From this water that the fire has entered, people are baptized and reborn. Fire + Water.)

Right: so while we’re discussing Campbell and baptism, with its rebirth imagery, baptism is very much a “Belly of the Whale” moment, wherein the protagonist appears to be consumed, or die, but in reality, he has been transformed. The first season of Lost, with the plane crash was something of a Belly of the Whale moment for the characters. They appeared to die, and found themselves on a transformative island. They are reborn, as we’ve discussed countless times.

But! That doesn’t mean that change is instantaneous, or permanent. Even after one has been baptized and reborn, one still faces challenges. (And sometimes, like Jack in the last episode, you fail at those challenges.) Charlie continues to be tested by the island: these visions, and the heroin, appear to be part of Charlie’s “road of trials.” Charlie has to interpret the messages that the island is sending him — that he has to not rescue the baby, but save him. He has to literally face his demons, he has to hold the drugs, to want them, and choose to not use them. And perhaps the biggest challenge, Charlie has to suffer the frustration of not being believed. Like the ancient prophets before him, Charlie rants and raves like a lunatic, and no one, with the exception of a man of religious faith, believes him.

Not even Locke, the Island Fundamentalist. Locke, who from the moment he set foot on the island, believed that the island could speak to people. And yet, he lacks faith in Charlie’s insistence that he is being spoken to. He decides that Charlie must be high. Locke is furious with Charlie, because he presumes that Charlie’s faith in the island wasn’t enough. That he isn’t a true believer. That Charlie wasn’t actually healed by the island. And it begins to shake Locke’s own faith in the island. This is the first moment of doubt that we see in Locke, a seed of doubt that will continue to grow over the course of the season. And perhaps the visions are the result of Charlie using again. While it wouldn’t be like the writers to do so, I suppose Charlie could have been using off-camera.

But I doubt it. Because I think that this episode helps set Charlie up for his big heroic moment at the end of the next season. The visions beg Charlie to save them. Charlie’s mother and Claire urge Charlie to “save the baby” meaning their respective babies: Liam and Aaron. In this episode, Charlie literally uses his gift, his piano, to save his brother from a life of drugs (or rather, his brother takes it from him in yet another Jacob/Esau moment). He saves his mother’s baby. And then in this episode, because of his craziness, Charlie spurs Claire on to baptize her infant, to save him.

More interestingly to me is what his mother says in his flashbackdream: “You’re special, love. Someday you’re going to get us out of here, all of us. Now, go on, play us a tune.” And in “Greatest Hits” and “Through the Looking Glass,” that’s exactly what Charlie does: he plays a tune (“Good Vibrations” to be exact) in the Looking Glass, and as a result, gets some (not all) of them off the island, including Aaron. He saves them.

Sort of. Maybe. I guess we’ll have to wait a season or two to find out ultimately what Charlie’s actions mean for the salvation of little Aaron. Did he save the baby after all?

Yeah, and now that the ARG is over, I don’t know what to do with myself. If you’re keeping up with ABC’s Lost book club, they’ve moved on to Slaughter House Five … But, um, yeah, I’ve got nothing. So, instead: enjoy this!

Lost originally aired on ABC and is now available to stream on Hulu and IMDb.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.

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