If you can get past the episode's complete lack of resemblance to the promos (which billed it as some kind of edge-of-your-seats thriller), this was the best episode of the season by quite a stretch, featuring many of the things the fans had been clamoring for: more of the cast in general, more Hurley in particular, more humor, absolutely zero mindgames or torture involving The Others, etc.
Back when "Dave" aired last year, Matt Seitz even argued that Jorge Garcia had become the show's "de facto star and its deepest actor (with the possible exception of O'Quinn), and I think the goodness of "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead" really speaks to that. The flashbacks retread the same ground as two previous Hurley episodes, but Garcia kept me interested in Hurley's deepening misery in a way that Matthew Fox can't with Jack's narcissism. His "Let's make our own luck" speech to Charlie was almost Belushi-esque (John, not Jim) in its conviction in a completely insane, futile and dangerous gesture.
Hurley is the hero of this show -- my hero, anyway. He's the only one who ever asks relevant questions, the only one who really seems to care about the emotional well-being of his fellow castaways, the only one concerned with improving everyone's quality of life. By the episode's climax, I really cared about whether they could get that damn Microbus to start, even if it would only be useful for going around in circles. (In that way, it's a perfect symbol for what the writers have allowed "Lost" to become.)
I could do without Hurley becoming the latest Lostaway with daddy issues (is there any character -- or, for that matter, TV drama writer -- who doesn't have them?), and without Cheech's distracting toupees, but the present-day stuff was spot-on. In particular, I loved Hurley's reaction to Sawyer's return, a moment where even the self-loathing con man couldn't help but enjoy someone else's affection for him. I hope that Hurley really has broken his bad luck streak thanks to the van and a little "Shambala," but even if he hasn't, this was a welcome oasis from all the bad feeling that's been strangling this season.
On the heavier side of things, we have Kate acting tough and proactive in what feels like the first time since early in season one. It always drives me nuts how the writers spent so much time establishing Kate as a bad-ass and then immediately turned her into the girl who gets tied to the train tracks. I just hope that Kate, Rousseau and company don't go to a lot of trouble invading Alcatraz, only to find it empty. Kate's desire to find The Others' village last week -- after Karl said that his people don't spend much time on Alcatraz -- gives me hope that that's her objective.
Some other thoughts:
- Did Rousseau tell Kate about her daughter in "Maternity Leave" last season, or is that a piece of information that we're supposed to assume Sayid told Kate about at some point? I'm almost hoping it's the latter, as it would imply that the castaways really do trade information in between scenes.
- Another great Hurley scene: him updating Libby on recent goings-on. The heartfelt monologue at a loved one's grave is an overused cliche, but two things sold it: Garcia's utter sincerity, and the pullback to reveal that they had built a fence around the cemetary. They've now lost so many people post-crash (Boone, Arzt, Shannon, one of Steve/Scott, Ana-Lucia, Libby, Eko, others I'm blanking on right now) that the cemetary is now the most substantial thing the castaways have built. Damn.
- Did Karl take the boat, and if not, why on earth wouldn't Sawyer and Kate have held onto the thing? Sawyer's objection last week was to navigating at night, but in the daytime they could have just hugged the coastline, and they'd still have a vehicle that would be much, much more useful than Hurley's new wheels.
- Getting back to the "are deleted scenes canon?" issue from earlier in the week, didn't I read somewhere that, in a deleted scene from "Live Together, Die Alone," Vincent joined Walt and Michael on their boat trip off the island?
- Now we know the source of all of Sawyer's '70s TV references: he had mono for two months as a kid.
- Other moments of fine Sawyer-related comedy: Hurley's failed attempt at a nickname comeback, and Sawyer teaching Jin some valuable marital phrases. That particular ESL joke's an old one, but always a good one.
- One downside to hanging with the entire beach gang: Nikki and Paulo return.
What did everybody else think?