Thursday, March 06, 2014

#696. Seven characters who explain Lost

I love Lost.  Lost was immensely popular even though it routinely baffled its fans.  The only thing that stains its memory now is that in its conclusion, Lost managed to remain true to that trend.  More people seem to think that it never really explained everything and therefore ends up being unsatisfying than those who think it did and therefore remains immensely satisfying.

So here I am making another attempt to clarify matters.  I've always believed it was the characters and not the elements around them that define Lost.  I mean, I thought that was always pretty clear.  It was their journeys that gave meaning to anything that happened.  But the characters also explain those sticky elements, too, and so here I will try to explain the series by explaining the characters, and how they define those elements better than it sometimes seems.


  • Jack (see also: Hurley, Michael, Mr. Eko, Claire)  This is the lead character of the series.  He's also someone who believes he's forever defined by a tragic past that he's always interpreted as being his fault, but it really wasn't, and so he's spent his life torturing himself, never forgiving himself, and needing redemption for it.  Isn't that the whole series in a nutshell?  Jack's father was always hard on him, claimed his son just "didn't have what it takes."  As the lead character and most obviously heroic of the series, is that how you would describe Jack?  As someone who had no idea what to do?  Right from the start, right after the crash, he's the one who sets out to rescue everyone.  His mirror opposite, Ana Lucia, ended up with a far different fate for her camp of survivors because she couldn't do the same.  And who could?  His journey on the island and even off the island, his decision to return to it, are not really about the island itself, but his continuing inability to let go.  If his father was right about anything, it's Jack's need to continue pressing the issue when it seems like he should just walk away.  He doesn't walk away from the Others, when he becomes their prisoner.  He doesn't walk away from Juliet.  He doesn't walk away from the island.  He doesn't walk away from Jacob.  There's always unfinished business, at least in Jack's mind, something to fix.  Usually when he tries to hard to fix something, he ends up breaking it again.  And that's the whole thing about the island, too, isn't it?  The Others were only there to protect it.  That's why Jack's father makes such a compelling and early and appropriate manifestation of the island (or the Smoke Monster, if you will).  Even though Jack tends to break things he fixes, he's far closer to the final mend than anyone else.
  • Kate (see also: Sawyer, Sun) Jack's perfect accomplice also punished herself the most out of anyone.  She always believed in herself, but she also constantly punished herself.  Every time she had a good thing, she let it slip away.  It's the whole reason the island had to wait so long to find another protector, because no one had enough confidence in themselves to just do what had to be done, to stop questioning everything.  Kate was pretty heroic.  She's one of the few characters who when considered in full would probably make for a pretty easy villain in any other context, but when given her shot at redemption, looks exactly like a hero.  She never understood the point of the island, either.  She only went back out of a sense of guilt, something she thought she owed someone.  If you want a character who represents that disappointment fans have in Lost, Kate's your girl.  Her life was constantly disappointing her, but in large part because she kept letting it, kept provoking it, even if she never thought she was.  She couldn't let go.
  • Locke (see also: Walt, Aaron, Man in Black, Boone) The character, I think, who most ends up disappointed fans is Locke, who early on seemed like the one with the most to gain and who had gained the most.  But then he gave us a perfect illustration of what kept happening to prevent a happy ending.  He was never satisfied.  He always wanted more.  Even when he had far more than he could have hoped for, he wanted more.  He tempted fate, just like Kate, just like Jack, but the key difference is he was always told he was special.  Instead of being happy with that, he kept pushing the envelope.  When you push the envelop, you sometimes end up tearing it.  That's what happened with Locke, and with everyone else (even the whole Dharma Initiative) who thought they had it all figured out but were constantly surprised to learn they didn't.  
  • Desmond (see also: Jin, Juliet) Here's the character those frustrated fans ought to value a little more.  Desmond's the one whose story ultimately transcended the series, whose defining moment had nothing to do with the mysteries of the island, but a personal triumph that was in no way negated by his further adventures.  His was a love story, filled with magic.  He's the one that shows what's possible when you don't obsess over what can be done but rather what needs to be done, overcoming every seemingly insurmountable obstacle along the way.  Needless to say, but he's always been a favorite character of mine.
  • Jacob (see also: Daniel) Even though Jacob is the important figure of the whole story, it's not really about him, and so it's entirely appropriate that it takes so long to meet him.  Events eclipse him, even though without him they would never have happened.  He's the embodiment of the maguffin, which is not to say he's ultimately pointless, but that if you don't worry so much about the great mysteries of the island, you see that they're really just another of the series of human woes that the series is really about.  That dazzling light, those incredible properties, that's just something he protected, which is to say the ability of the island to force people to be honest with themselves, to find peace.  The island is not a magical wonderland.  It's a horror movie.  Peace is far more difficult to find than you'd think, even with an island imbued with everything you need to achieve it.  What would happen if the rest of the world had equal access to it?  Just ask Jacob.  He believes in the island, but he also needs to protect it.  What more do you need to know?
  • Ben (see also: Sayid, Shannon, Ana Lucia) A character who never asked for trouble, but trouble keeps finding him.  Basically, the human condition for all the cynics, the opposite of Desmond (appropriately, they both represent the last vestiges of the Dharma Initiative).  After a while, even if Ben is not really a villain, even he begins to see himself that way, believes he deserves all the bad things that happen to him.  And so he continues to plot and calculate, thinking there's no point in trying to avoid his fate anymore.  Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the alternate character studies from the final season.  Because before that, who would have believed that the erstwhile Henry Gale could actually be redeemed?
  • Richard (see also: Charlie, Rousseau) Richard Alpert was one of the more fanciful and therefore instantly charismatic additions to the series, seemingly integral but always peripheral.  No doubt he saw all these properties in himself as well.  He was, in the end, the embodiment of the human connection we all crave but frequently fail to make, sometimes quite spectacularly, the necessary bonds that formed in the very first episode and remained strong despite every obstacle to the very end, cutting through every other element.  Even polar bears.   

6 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

Never watched Lost but what a copout at the end. The whole "they're already dead" was something people had been guessing since the first season.

Tony Laplume said...

If that's what you think they did in the final episode...if that's what a lot of people think happened...I would certainly understand all the frustration...The entire set of flashbacks in the final season were the only elements to the misunderstanding that the series ended with everyone having been dead all along. No, everything besides the flashbacks in the final season really happened...

Remembering Grace said...

I was so into Lost, and the final episode did disappoint me, still does disappoint me. But I do like your take on it as a character study!

I completely agree with you about Desmond, he is my favorite and I think 'The Constant' is absolutely the best episode of the series. Watching that moment when he and Penny finally connect on the phone never gets old.

I somehow feel that Hurley and Charlie should be in your list somehow. Maybe Hurley replacing Richard, and Charlie being number eight on your list?

I just think Hurley was so much more important to the story than Richard was - Hurley was so much more HUMAN, and flawed, and funny and sad and lovable and brave. And in the end, it was Hurley who was left in charge of the island.

And Charlie's death affected everyone so much more than Sayid's, Sun's, Jin's, Juliet's..I don't know why, but you can probably come up with something! LOL

Tony Laplume said...

I included both Hurley and Charlie! Hurley is included in the Jack archetype (although he could fit into several). And ironically, Charlie is in Richard's. Charlie's affected fans, I think, because it was such a dramatic one that even a whole season of foreshadowing it (or perhaps because of that, and a strong reason to think more positively of the third season than most fans tend to). No other death in the series compares. Most of them were shock, in-the-moment ones, which is why I think Mr. Eko's, for instance, feels so hollow, even though it was an important moment in the development of the Smoke Monster mythology.

Linking Hurley to Jack isn't just in acknowledging that he was Jacob's permanent replacement as well as successor to Jack. The two characters were a lot more similar than it can sometimes seem. Hurley's journey had a lot to do with his physical and mental states, while Jack's was more emotional, but when taken as a whole, they were both about people who were constantly told, or allowed themselves to believe, that they weren't good enough.

Hurley in particular might be the character who can be said to have gotten everything he wanted before the island, except it was the island that came calling, the same way it called to Jack after they'd managed to escape it. That's another key connection. Both of these requests from the island nearly drove our heroes crazy. That's another strong reason to link them.

So if you want more and more reasons to view the finale as conclusive and appropriate, your man Hurley is a major way to view it like that. It was always Hurley who found small redemptive moments, not Jack, and so it was Hurley who got the happy ending, and not Jack. He was indeed the secret lead hero of the whole series.

It's just, from a more traditional standpoint, it's Jack who appears to fit the criteria, so he's the one I listed first.

Remembering Grace said...

Yes! That's it! I knew you'd come up come up with it...you have a nice strong healthy intelligent mind, unlike mine! LOL

I knew it but I couldn't pinpoint it, what it was with Charlie's death that was so devastating, you are awesome.

I see what you did there now, linking the names...

Tony Laplume said...

Glad to be of service.

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