Return to Everything Else...
Spoilers for Flight. Also mentions of Siege and Warriors. Originally done for The Guide Project.
Review of Flight
written April 1998
Flight is one of my most favorite episodes. I can watch it repeatedly and never get bored of it. I know it's one of the most discussed episodes between fans as it set up so much of the more mystical aspects of The Sentinel, which later grew and expanded when Warriors was shown. Both episodes delve into topics I think most fans would love to see more of, but that are sadly only discussed in these two episodes and Sentinel Too.
There are two important themes running throughout this episode. The first theme is friendship. The friendship between Jim and Blair, between Jim and Simon, between Blair and Simon, between Simon and Daryl, and even a little between Blair and Daryl. Jim and Simon have a friendship that, we will learn a few episodes down the line, dates back several years, back when Jim first came into Major Crimes, and is apparently very strong. When the pilot tells Jim that his friends are most likely dead, Jim says that he will bring back their bodies. Now that's a dedicated friendship for you. Blair and Simon's friendship is a little harder to define. Simon sometimes seems only barely tolerant of Blair and at this point, it really hasn't been given very much time to develop. However, when Jim doesn't want Blair to come along to Peru, Blair refuses to back down, stating that Simon is his friend too. So even at this early stage, there is some sort of beginning friendship between them. Blair and Daryl were together before in Siege, but never really (if I remember correctly) had very many scenes together. It's obvious from Flight that the two of them must know each more than just on a casual basis. Daryl asks for reassurance from Blair when they are tied up in the drug camp in the latter part of the episode. Daryl does run to Jim for a hug in the village earlier, but that may be because he sees Jim as more of a father figure than Blair.
As for Simon and Daryl, their friendship is obviously a more father-son relationship, but I still think they have to be friends as well. In Flight, Simon goes to Peru for a drug conference, taking Daryl along with him. He is hoping to talk with his son, maybe rebuild the bridges between them that are slowly decaying because of Simon's divorce from Joan. We already know from Daryl's one other appearance in Siege that Daryl is a somewhat rebellious teenager, not really connecting with his father. But Simon and Daryl do love each other, as is evidenced in Siege by Simon's very genuine, very real reaction when he learns Daryl is in the building with Kincaid. And again at the end of that episode with the strong hug between father and son. Simon very much loves his son and wants to have a relationship with him, however difficult that may be for both of them to work on.
And so Simon decides to take Daryl to Peru, giving them some time alone. He wants to take Daryl fishing, something he doesn't realize until later is not something Daryl enjoys. In a cute scene just before the helicopter is blown up, Simon relents, saying they can go back to Lima and do whatever Daryl wants. Daryl is thrilled and promptly asks if they can go scuba diving. Poor Simon. He almost loses that wonderful smile at making his son happy. But, to his credit, he says "sure" and Daryl nearly bounces with energy.
It is also reinforced in this episode how much Daryl cares for his father, even if he sometimes actslike he doesn't. He doesn't want to leave his father after the two of them try to escape from the drug encampment. Later, he wants to go with Jim to get Simon out of the underground lab. And the final truck scene, he calls Simon "Daddy" and hugs him through the window. I wish they'd bring Daryl back again sometime. He may just be a plot device at times, I know, but I think he adds a certain dimension to Simon's character that we don't see in Jim or Blair since they are not parents. And since I like Simon, I'm all for that.
Now, as for Jim and Blair's friendship, it is still really in its developing stages and is being put to the test, a severe one, during this episode. At the same time as Simon and Daryl are working on becoming closer, Jim and Blair's relationship seems to be falling apart. First the call for Blair to go to Borneo, which immediately sets Jim on the defensive. He's happy at first, thinking Blair would only be gone for a few weeks. When he learns the truth, that it could be much longer, probably a year, you can see him stumbling, faltering, wondering if the trust and friendship he has developed with Blair was misplaced. You can almost see him drawing into himself, pulling away so he won't get hurt if Blair leaves. He asks about their project, this Sentinel thing. Blair sorta shrugs, looking uncertain. "Jim, I know, but this kind of opportunity...." He trails off, unsure. Jim pulls back, walks away, saying without looking at Blair again, "Well, then you should go."
The walls are up, defenses are in place, no one is allowed in. And he is very, very upset. This is made more obvious when the phone rings and he yanks the phone away from Blair even as he is picking it up. Blair realizes that Jim is upset, but doesn't meet his eyes, just stares at the counter, waiting for Jim to finish, probably hoping they can talk. This distance is something Jim holds on to for most of the episode. He doesn't talk to Blair much at all, either ignoring him or shoving his comments or concerns away. I know part of this can be attributed to the fact that Jim has totally focused on finding Simon and Daryl and getting everyone out of Peru safely.
Jim seems to be just tolerating Blair's presence. He questions Blair jumping out of the plane with him. Blair's answer is that he'll take his chances, and I think it goes as much for the jungle as it does for dealing with Jim in his current state. Later, when Jim starts to see the panther and his senses start to not work, he doesn't tell Blair anything of what is happening, just says it's nothing and goes on. It's only when it gets to crunch time that he finally breaks down and talks.
I think that Jim takes the idea of Blair possibly leaving to mean that maybe Blair isn't as dedicated to 'this Sentinel thing' as Jim thought he was. That he's not as committed to their friendship as Jim would like. And once he discovers this, he doesn't want to get hurt further when Blair finally leaves. So he pulls back. His whole attitude during their time in Peru is like 'you want out, fine, one last adventure, then you can go, I don't care.' Blair, I think, realizes too late what Jim is thinking and tries to repair some of it by talking, asking how he is, showing concern, but by then it's too late. Jim doesn't want any of it, probably thinking it's all false. It's only when their options have run out that Jim listens again when Blair reminds him, very firmly, that they are partners. And even then, it seemed to me that Jim hesitated, because he wasn't sure what Blair would say about him seeing a panther watching and following them and maybe partly because he wasn't sure he wanted to believe that their partnership still existed.
The second running theme is choice. Blair has a choice to make on whether he will stay in Cascade or go to Borneo, or more simply put, he has to choose between Jim and his mentor, Dr. Stoddard. Jim has a choice between staying an ordinary man or going forward in his Sentinel abilities. Blair, while making his choice, must include his friendship with Jim as he decides. Jim's choice doesn't seem to do so, although it will affect their friendship, their partnership, if you will. At first, it doesn't seem that Jim considered friendship while making his decision.
However, I think that Jim was thinking of friendship while making his choice, if in a slightly different way. Blair is thinking about leaving. And Jim knows this. I'm sure he realizes that he cannot handle his Sentinel abilities alone, that if Blair leaves, his abilities won't be worth anything if he can't control them. He knows that if he decides to refuse them, then he can let Blair go and Blair won't have to feel guilty. It may be that he didn't truly understand just how important expeditions and studies are to a graduate student. In the time that passed while traveling to Peru, Jim had a lot of time to think. I have a feeling he and Blair didn't talk a lot if the way he is treating Blair in Peru is any indication. So even before his Sentinel abilities start to vanish, he's wondering what he'll do, how he'll control his abilities if Blair isn't there to help. So if he refuses to accept his abilities, then his life can go back to normal, Blair can go to Borneo, and everyone will be happy.
On the other hand, I think Jim has grown used to depending on his abilities. When his senses are gone, Jim tells Blair he never wanted his hypersenses, that all they had done was screw him up. Blair counters that those senses had saved lives. Jim, frustrated and upset, shouts back, asking what good they are if he can't control them. I have to wonder if he was thinking what good they are if Blair isn't there to help him control them. Blair wants to help him, reminds him that he is Jim's partner. Jim must've heard something in Blair's voice because it is only then that he finally talks to Blair, telling him about the panther that he keeps seeing.
When given the choice by the shaman, Jim knows that by accepting, he is stepping out on the proverbial limb. If he accepts them back, he takes the chance of having to use them without Blair's presence, without his guiding. Simon had told him before that maybe it was time to let Blair go, that perhaps he doesn't need him anymore. Jim knows better. He knows about zoning and its dangers. He knows that he needs the help to figure out what he can do with his senses. He knows that Blair understands his senses more than he will. Thus, I think his hesitation in making a choice is twofold. One, because he's not even sure he still wants his Sentinel abilities. Two, because even if he does take them back, he's not even sure that Blair will be there to guide him.
I think it's a testament to his faith, belief, and hope in Blair as partner and as a friend that he accepts his Sentinel abilities, not knowing with absolute positivity that Blair will stay.
It's almost ironic that the nearly the first thing that Jim hears after his abilities come back is the village in danger, everyone being taken captive. Now that he's accepted his abilities again, he may very well lose Blair, not to a famous mentor or to Borneo, but to a drug-producing mercenary.
No review of Flight would be complete without talking about the mystical aspects that I've come to love so much. While on their way to find Simon and Daryl, Jim keeps seeing a panther, once when they first land, a second time at the helicopter crash site. The third time is in a "dreamscape," for lack of a better term. Jim wakes up at their campsite, can't find Blair and goes looking for him, probably thinking his partner had wandered off into the jungle somewhere. I think Jim forgets that Blair knows how to get around in a jungle. Though with his, uh, dubious sense of direction (yes, I know, we're not told about that until later, yeah, yeah), I guess one has to wonder. In any case, the panther comes out of nowhere and jumps onto Jim, knocking him over....
....and Jim really wakes up this time, still at the campsite. I found it nice that his first concern is finding his partner, who is sleeping way off to the side under a tree, no where really near Jim at all. Emotional distance = physical distance. But even with the emotional and physical distance, Jim still cares about Blair and wants to be sure he's okay.
The fourth time the panther appears occurs after Jim and Blair have found the Indian village. And it's also at this point that Jim really starts relate to Blair as a friend again instead of shoving him away. Before he leaves to scout around outside the village, Jim pauses to tell Blair "Hey, Chief, I'm glad you came." Blair answers back "Me too." I think at this point Jim is finally relenting, maybe realizing that Blair really does care, that maybe he doesn't want to leave.
In the jungle, between one blink and the next, Jim is back in the "dreamscape" again. He follows the panther and watches it morph into a Chopec shaman. Jim asks the all-important question: "Who are you?" The shaman throws that question back at Jim, who actually needs to answer it more. "The question is who are you?" Jim doesn't understand. The shaman explains that Jim was not back in Peru by coincidence, that this was the place he was "reborn as a Sentinel." Jim -- "Why have my senses been taken away?" Shaman -- "To remind you of who you were. What you have experienced is just an initiation. Now is the time to make a choice. You can go back the way you came and be an ordinary man, or you can go forward. But to do so will require your life and your soul. Are you prepared to make such a journey?" Jim pauses, then says, "I'm not sure." Jim then finds himself on the edge of a cliff, looking down. "If I go forward, I'll die." Shaman -- "Yes." Jim pauses a moment more, then starts to turn around, saying "Okay, I'm ready." However, as soon as he turns, the "dreamscape" vanishes and all is back to normal, including his newly reactivated hypersenses.
I have to wonder about the last thing the shaman said, or rather his agreement to Jim's statement that if he goes forward (with his senses), he'll die. This could mean anything. It could mean that because of his Sentinel abilities he will be in more danger than he would just as an ordinary man. Or it could refer to the death of his ordinary self, that once he accepts those abilities, he can't go back. Or it could be both. In Warriors, Jim does try to stop being a Sentinel. Both Incacha and Blair tell him he can't. He is a Sentinel. That is who he is and he can't change it, no matter what he wants. And he is in more danger because of what he can hear and see and taste. How he reacts to noise, to light, and even to drugs, can attest to that.
The last time Jim sees the panther is at the very end of the episode where the panther is on the upper story of the loft. Obviously the panther has come back with Jim to Cascade and taken up residence there.
Taking this episode by itself, it would appear that the panther and shaman are just what Blair said they were -- his animal spirit or maybe his unconscious mind talking in symbols. But if you look at Warriors as well, I think it reads a little differently. To me it seems that the panther represents more than just an animal spirit. I think it also represents Jim's Sentinel abilities, or his Sentinel self, especially in light of events that occurred in Warriors. Watching Flight now, I get a slightly different perspective of those panther scenes. Jim can only see the panther briefly or out of the corner of his eye during the times when he is awake. It is only in his dreams that he can really see it and then he is chasing it. At the same time this is all happening, Jim's senses are fading, finally vanishing altogether. When he sees and occasionally chases the panther, I think he is 'seeing' and 'chasing' his senses, trying to get them back. He does not catch up to the panther, however, until he has totally lost his abilities, until he is ready to make a choice based on what he is normally and what he remembers being.
Moving on, I must admit that I have a fondness for action scenes, part of the reason I was originally attracted to this show. Just enough action to make me happy, but not too much as to make me hit overload. And the final scenes in the drug camp definitely qualified for me. Jim blowing up everything in sight and rescuing the Indians, Simon, Blair, and Daryl, is, in my opinion, all lovely action stuff. Jim in his 'jungle togs' and black paint, well, I won't say too much other than it looked good. The final showdown between him and the head mercenary is probably one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.
And then we come to the defining scene of the entire episode that sums up everything that went on between Jim and Blair. Jim seems ready, though reluctant, to let Blair go to Borneo if he has to. Only Blair tells him he's not going to, that he'd realized something important, that "this Sentinel thing, you know, it's more than just a research project. It's about friendship. I just didn't get it before." Jim looks a little stunned, subdued, but happy. He smiles, simply saying "Okay." Blair asks about how Jim got his senses back, but, once again, Jim reverts back to silence, just saying that they just came back. But this time the silence is more companionable and not upset. They're home. They and their friends are again safe. Their friendship is intact.
Inside, Jim sees the panther on the upper level of the loft. It looks back at him and roars. Approval, welcome, sanction, agreement. A blessing perhaps on them both, on their partnership, and on their friendship.