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With the third season finale, “Through the Looking Glass,” Charlie Pace chooses to die in order to rescue (“save”) his friends, becomes redeemed, and one last time is reborn into a new life. Although his death may be hard to accept, it finally turns Charlie into a savior and hints that his next “second chance” may be a more peaceful afterlife.
The preceding episode, “Greatest Hits,” eulogizes Charlie and highlights not only his favorite memories but key character-building moments in his life. Only in retrospect can anyone gain a more objective perspective, and Charlie (and viewers) have this opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of his relatively short life. This episode also helps us make sense out of Charlie’s life, and upon his death in “Through the Looking Glass,” we can look back at three seasons’ backstories to realize that redemption, achieved through a series of “deaths” and “rebirths,” is where Charlie was headed all along.
Images of death and rebirth surround Charlie during his time on the island. In “The Moth,” Locke explains how a moth struggles to leave its cocoon and enter its new life; this struggle makes the moth strong enough to survive. By saving Jack from a cave-in and destroying his (at that time) last heroin stash, Charlie the addict “dies” and a “savior” struggles to be born. During “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues,” Charlie physically dies by hanging, but he is brought back to life by Jack. This time, however, his new life turns vengeful, when Charlie’s first important act is to kill Ethan. Although he declares that he only murders the Other to protect Claire, he likely has less pure motives, too, such as avenging his own abduction and hanging and making up for his inability to protect Claire in the first place. During the Season Two finale, Charlie again cheats death by narrowly surviving a first explosion and then escaping the Hatch’s implosion; he tries to convince Eko not to explode the blast door, but when the priest won’t be dissuaded, Charlie then tries to save the injured man before the Hatch’s ultimate destruction. His savior tendencies turn more benevolent with this act, and a kinder, gentler man is “reborn.”
Charlie really has to deal with impending death and what his life means during what turn out to be the last weeks of his life. Throughout the latter part of Season Three, Desmond envisions Charlie’s death, sometimes shown to us as fragmented, flashing images. The most graphic is an arrow through the throat, an image replayed throughout “Catch-22,” but other predicted “deaths” result from electrocution, drowning, and a broken neck. Each time that Desmond’s actions change the future, Charlie is “reborn.” His reprieve earns him second, third, even fourth chances to change his life. Perhaps he needs this many opportunities to become the savior he was meant to be. (As a child, his mother wants him to “save the family” with his music; as an adult on the island, he has a vision of saving Aaron, although in retrospect, the dream/vision in “Fire + Water” of Claire, Hurley, and Aaron on the beach with a plane flying overhead might foreshadow their eventual rescue after Charlie opens a communication channel.)
Charlie even feels reborn twice during “Through the Looking Glass” after he accepts the suicide mission to the underwater station. When he surfaces in the moon pool and discovers that the station isn’t flooded, he rejoices in being alive. He becomes a noble martyr for his friends, holding off the women who interrogate him until events transpire so that he can turn off the jamming switch, an act, it turns out, that only musician Charlie could complete. “So much for fate,” he smiles, believing that his new life will be a lot longer than anticipated. The chamber isn’t flooded, he completes his mission, and Desmond is bringing the scuba gear for their return trip to the surface. Charlie has been reborn by “cheating death” once again. Fate, however, has a different idea. When Charlie sees Mikhail brandishing an unpinned grenade, he makes two selfless decisions: to save Desmond’s life and to warn him about the rescue boat. Without panic or regret, Charlie drowns.
As in earlier episodes, symbols of death and rebirth surround Charlie’s last scenes. His impending death is heavily foreshadowed with images in “Greatest Hits.” As Charlie swims toward the Looking Glass station, he loses a shoe. Being shoeless is one metaphor for death (at least in some cultures). The checkered Van floats upward to the surface; Charlie has to descend to the station in order to ascend spiritually. While being tortured and awaiting his death, he writes a new song, telling interrogator Bonnie that he’s finished all but the bridge. In truth, the new song of Charlie’s life as a martyr/savior is nearly completed; all he needs is that bridge to his next life, or afterlife. When Charlie chooses to drown rather than flood the station, which would condemn Desmond and possibly his friends who don’t know about Penny’s message, he completes the symbolic bridge to his new life. Catholic Charlie undoubtedly believes in an afterlife, and his final act, to cross himself, hints that he just may have found it.