Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lost: The Complete Review - Part 2

A Character Study

The most appealing part of Lost was the characters and how they are one of the primary focuses of the show. You get to know these characters on a very personal level; you see absolutely terrible things happen to them to the point where their triumphs have real meaning and emotion behind them. One of the primary themes is that of rebirth. All of the characters who visit the island are all people who have deep and inherent flaws brought upon them through past events. Through an immense need for survival and through the realization that they may never be rescued or may never leave, these characters realize that, perhaps, the concerns and motivations that had driven them before aren't worth it. If you were stuck on a (mostly) deserted island, what would you do? Forced to fend for yourself and rely on total strangers who may soon become closest friends, you would change. But would you change for the better?

That particular question is one that comes up again and again throughout the series, and it is an interesting one. Some characters hold on to their preconceived notions of self; Sawyer holds himself to his quest for lonely vengeance. But some characters seize the opportunity to redefine themselves; Locke on the island is almost unrecognizable from the Locke that lived before the crash. Some characters succeed in this redefinition and come out the better for it; Hurley overcomes his fear of numbers (long story) and his need for comfort food. Some try and simply aren't strong enough to overcome their past; Sayid tries and tries to get over his days as a torturer and ultimately fails. The plethora of stories and characters mesh and clash with each other, making for a show that is defined by people growing, learning from their own mistakes, coming to rely on one another.

One particular plot device that is used to force characters to come to terms with themselves (up until around the fifth season) is that of the smoke monster. The smoke monster is, for the longest time, one of the scariest and yet most compelling things about the island. It appears to the survivors on numerous occasions, manifesting itself as people from their past. Seeing your long dead father march out from the trees would be immensely disturbing, as much as talking with your dead brother about the sins you committed in the past. The smoke monster, until the fifth season, serves as a sort of elemental force of judgment, and is used as a device to force characters out of their funks or comfort zones. Sometimes it is for the better, as when Jack is able to come to terms with the death of his father after following his shade through the forest. Sometimes it is for the worse, as when Eko speaks with his dead brother and then summarily gets the living crap beaten out of him by the smoke monster. Long story short; this helps to make a show about characters and their growth even more meaningful and intimate, as the smoke monster forces characters to face their fears and their mistakes.

At this point out, I want to talk about each of the major characters, one by one, and talk about what made them worth watching. Or why they sucked. Because I like character studies and because I feel like it.

Jack Shephard

Jack makes for a character that is both interesting and immensely frustrating. At first, I found a lot in common with him. Jack is obsessive in helping others, and can often get in over his head in doing so. He is the unofficial leader of the survivors for a long time, and takes it upon himself these gargantuan responsibilities of managing a group of people on an island without civilized food or care. It is clear, though, that while Jack is capable of helping people due to his profession as a surgeon and leadership abilities, he will not stop until he is able to succeed. While, in a sense, this is an admirable quality that he will sacrifice all in order to help people, it is something that results in nervous breakdowns, insane amounts of sleeplessness, and decisions that, while they may seem rational, are clearly, to the viewer, wrong.

There are countless decisions that Jack makes that are stupid. But nowhere is this more clear than with his constant inability to get along with Locke. I won't get into the details of Locke's character just yet but, despite Locke's foggy rationality, it is clear that Locke knows what he is doing. Other characters also make decisions that are perfectly correct, but Jack irritatingly opposes them. This makes it so that, for the majority of Lost's middle seasons, Jack is reduced to a stubborn dumbass who just won't agree with people who clearly know exactly what to do. His constant angst over wanting to be with Kate also gets on the nerves.

However, he redeems himself in the end. This obsessive nature eventually causes him to snap and, after a significant amount of time as an idiotic bearded bum, he reconstructs himself in a way that keeps the best of his qualities along with opening himself to possibilities beyond simply the rational. Logic defines Jack, and this opening of himself to faith and a willingness to put stock in things that seem unbelievable is a powerful step for him. And it is engrossing to watch. I found myself amazed in seasons five and six with regard to Jack. He actually became an interesting character again; he conceded decision-making to other people while similarly gaining a sympathy with Locke. Jack realized that he couldn't fix everything and came to understand that self-sacrifice has to have limits and understanding.

In the end, then, I came to appreciate Jack and what they did with his character. I loved him in the beginning; I loved his willingness to help strangers no matter the cost along with his obsessive desire to fix things. In the middle, he was an annoying pissant, but I see that this was done intentionally to pave the way for the end, where he transcends his failures to become someone greater for it. His death, while predictable, was thus one that was not without sadness for me.

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