"Flashes Before Your Eyes" set off the major character arcs for both Desmond and Charlie this season. Desmond saving Charlie only to get a new vision of Charlie's horrible death repeatedly has taken a toll on his psyche. Likewise, knowing his demise is imminent has affected Charlie's behavior. As the season draws to an end, they would have to address it definitively, which plays in well with the overall storyline. So it makes sense to go back to Charlie, who hasn't had a flashback since the middle of last season, who reflects on his life while his destiny is closing in.
Charlie has been a polarizing character. Some have accused his storyline of treading water since he kicked his drug addiction. The exploration of his dark side in "Fire + Water", perhaps the most hated episode of the second season, became subject to a lot of negative criticism. Despite that, I've enjoyed Charlie's character and I liked "Fire + Water". His interactions with Hurley and Jin have been extremely entertaining in one of the most overlooked character relationships on the show (guess if they were lovers or mortal enemies critics would cite them more). Plus his relationship with Claire has been rewarding as well even if it doesn't get the publicity the Kate-Sawyer-Jack triangle does.
Considering the news Desmond's given him of his death, it makes sense for him to be thinking about his life (likely this has been his mindset all season). Charlie's flashbacks function more like a normal person would. Instead of one story playing parallel to the current action, the flashbacks are five moments not connected by narrative. While it doesn't add to the episode's story on the surface, the device adds to the emotional punch of the episode.
Also, the events tie in to Charlie's character. Since he was a child, his working class family depended on him to help them with his musical talent. Unfortunately, the rock and roll lifestyle got a hold of him and he found himself falling apart because of addiction. He has tried and desired to prove himself. So it is fitting that the moments Charlie considers his best reflect his need for validation, his music and family.
Charlie's mission with Desmond to The Looking Glass reinforces these memories. Being heard on the radio is the validation he needs, reinforced when Naomi tells of Drive Shaft's success since the crash. His leap of faith, believing his death will lead to the rescue of the other castaways, reminds him of the time he trusted his father to catch him in the pool (where someone could be heard saying Desmond). His brother giving him the ring symbolizes the responsibility bestowed upon him. Being the hero is recalled by helping Nadia. Finally, seeing Claire is the reminder of why he's doing it.
In another character connection, Charlie saves Sayid's love Nadia from a mugger (who looked like Liam). Without repeating previous reviews that detail the interconnected nature of the back stories and what that means, it adds to Nadia's story. It's practically a cliché for people from troubled nations in Europe and Asia to seek asylum in London. It's likely Nadia was in London before California, where Locke inspected her new home.
Desmond attempting to take Charlie's place is another way to read why Desmond has been having visions: he's meant to die instead. With fate imminent, it would make sense for Desmond to think there was another way to save someone he's become friends with, since Ms. Hawking never told him how specifically to read his flashes in "Flashes Before Your Eyes" besides course correction will negate any changes he makes. One clear hint that Charlie isn't out of the woods (besides being held at gunpoint) is that Desmond can't see what's happening. Assuming it's correct, Desmond can only have these visions if he's present when they happen.
With the threat of Charlie's death more vivid than ever, it makes the scenes where he bids farewell to his friends even more poignant. Hurley, who he has bonded to the most in a non-romantic way, is a touching farewell. Those two have had such great chemistry and this scene is a great example of them showing their serious side. Of course, his goodbyes to Claire would be different, as his actions are motivated by the possible future where Claire and Aaron are rescued. Claire accidentally leaving the DS ring behind adds to the already impressive punch.
This episode might've ended with Charlie jumping in the water, leaving us to assume his success when they contact Naomi's ship. However, they decide to go another route which is far more interesting. It turns out Ben lied (surprise, surprise) about The Looking Glass being flooded. In fact, two women inhabit it. Who these women are and why Ben lied about the station are two huge questions. Some theorized that they may be Dharma who managed to survive the purge because of their isolation. Whatever it is, it ties directly to Ben's need to control his people.
While Ben shot Locke to protect his place within The Others, that action ironically further showed his status is doomed for failure. His decision to move ahead with the attack, while it may be smart considering what we know about the main beach, is rash and symbolic of his losing control considering how he demanded it.
Naïveté is also a major flaw with Ben's leadership. He knows clearly how his daughter feels about the castaways and she has enough motivation to go against his rule. This dynamic is similar to him and Juliet, but unfortunately for him he is backed in a corner as far as who he can use to infiltrate the castaways. Both relationships give the castaways a big advantage. In a way, Ben giving the gun back to Alex shows a transfer of power, which is used to help the castaways.
On the other end, Jack reasserts his leadership in the main cast, which has been questioned since he returned, by revealing his plan. With some help by Rousseau, paying off her cameo in "The Brig", they plan to rig tents with dynamite, killing The Others looking for the pregnant women. The plans of the leaders from both ends complicate things further. The castaways know they're coming because of Juliet's information. Because The Others plan to head in early, the castaways won't have time to wire the dynamite properly. Such complexity among actions adds to the suspense, which has gone beyond critical mass.
Since they can't properly wire the explosives on this new timetable, Sayid suggests a contingency where a few stay behind and shoot at them, hopefully creating the same effect. Sayid is an obvious choice to stay behind as one of the gunmen. So is Jin, whose military background has been mentioned in prior episodes. Desmond could've been a good substitute, but his thoughts were on Charlie's fate. The wild card is of course Bernard. Where did a dentist from New York learn to shoot like that?
This season, some fans have complained (among other things) about the notable absence of Rose & Bernard, who finally return in this episode. While the producers have a story to tell, unfortunately the real world element isn't easily controllable. Considering the show's distance from every other major TV production, it's understandable that actors not under contract as leads would want to get work elsewhere if they aren't needed on Hawaii and that may make them unavailable for an unknown period.
This episode revisits and answers two long standing loose ends from the first season: the radio tower and the cable on the beach. Some have criticized the castaways for not going to the tower sooner (since any adventure with the cable has involved falling in one of Rousseau's traps), but unfortunately, they've only had fleeting access to communication devices and if they had, there would be no guarantee that anyone would be listening. With Naomi's satellite phone and her ship miles off shore, they now have both.
The cable connects the long rumored underwater station to the island. Some wondered why they wouldn't just cut the cable, assuming that it is the source of the blocking signal's power. That comment would've been an easy out for the writers and the stupidest architectural design flaw since the two meter wide thermal exhaust port in "Star Wars". The cable could also serve as a last ditch effort to keep the station connected to the island in case of a major storm.
This is the best penultimate episode of "Lost" to date. The stakes are as high as ever, with the showdown between The Others and the castaways drawing near. The flashback story had a lot of heart and was as emotional as ever considering the thought that Charlie would have to die to get everyone off the island. This episode prepares us, but even in doing that makes it so much harder.