The first clue that these memories-folded-over-memories are worth decoding is in the name of the physical location Red both seeks out and is then overwhelmed by: Sea Breakers Inne. On the sign out in front of the picturesque, oceanside hotel, which is closed for the season, the use of the term “inne” to describe the location is critically important although likely unnoticed by most viewers. Nowhere on the planet is a hotel referred to as an “inne.” An “Inn” certainly, but the usage of “inne,” in any context in modern English, is obsolete.
Tracing the origins of the word “inne” is difficult and elusive. The clearest example is from Old Irish-English and refers to one’s anatomy, specifically the bowels, guts, or viscera. In the spiritual sense, “inne” may also refer to one’s center, intrinsic feelings, essence or nature. And so it happens that Katarina Rostova (re)enters Red’s reality as he visits Sea Breakers Inne. It is the memory of the day in 1991 when she walked into the sea, supposedly to her death, although we know now, at the end of season nine, that Katarina Rostova is still alive.
Red had just arrived in Cape May and seemed quite familiar with Sea Breakers Inne. He breached the locked entry easily and snaked his way through passageways and porticos until he arrived at a nondescript door that led into a storage shed. There he picked up a chair, walked through the shack to the other end, and opened a door that emptied out onto the sand and a pristine view of the coastline. The water was breaking in roughly as the waves neared the shore. The beach was desolate, save for an elderly man pushing his metal detector over the sand about two hundred yards away. Red set up his chair and seemed to relax as he took in the view.
He didn’t get to relax for long as he noticed a crimson-haired woman kneeling in the sand. She removed her jacket and then her necklace before standing and walking toward the water. She kept going when the cold waves slapped her shins. Then she dove in, without a moment’s hesitation. Red also didn’t hesitate to chase her and throw himself into the rough, icy water with the gusto of a martyr. He carried her out of the water and laid her down on the sand. She coughed and sobbed all at once, and he placed his hat under her head. When she got all the water out of her lungs, he picked her slight frame up again and carried her toward the hotel.
Once they get inside, dry off and rest a bit, they begin talking and this is where we learn of Red’s broken heart. He speaks of a woman he loved who died and a child that he tried to save but didn’t…or couldn’t. Perhaps Red is talking about Katarina, Elizabeth, and Agnes. Maybe he is remembering his former life, before he took the name Raymond Reddington, and a woman and child whom he loved but also met a miserable fate. And what does Red mean by referring to all of this as a “Hobson’s Choice?”
The Hobson’s Choices
The phrase “Hobson’s Choice” originated in the 16th century and is named after Thomas Hobson, a licensed carrier of messages between Cambridge and London, England. When his horses weren’t being used for deliveries, he would rent them out to students from the university. Because those horse lovers preferred specific mounts, Hobson found his best horses were being overtaxed and so he devised a solution. The first stall with a horse occupying it was the one that was up for lease, no more free choice for the joy-riders. It became part of common speech, then, to refer to having no real choice at all as a Hobson’s Choice.