WARNING: The following contains SPOILERS for the television show Lost. If you have not caught up through season 5, do not read this. It will spoil your enjoyment of the show.
Lost makes no great attempt to hide its recurring themes. Faith versus reason (as I’ve already discussed), free will versus fate, and redemption and rebirth are not just subtle thematic elements of the show, they are right up front and center.
These aspects of the show’s thematic heart are oft discussed, but a common element more infrequently discussed is the sins of the father; trying to rise above deep parental issues, specifically father issues. Not that Lost has made this theme a big secret. After all, the eleventh episode of the very first season was called “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues“. Talk about putting all your cards on the table!
Jack’s problems with his overbearing drunkard of a father were put right up front with Jack’s pursuit of visions of his dead father, which were among Jack’s first confrontations with things he could not (and would not) explain. Locke tells him outright that the Island wants him to confront his demons — manifested here in the form of his father.
But the show’s father issues run much deeper than Jack’s alone. He isn’t the only one haunted by the sins of the father. Locke himself is dogged by daddy issues, arguably the most painful in the show. His father took his kidney and later left him in a wheelchair (not to mention helped ruin Sawyer’s life, too). Yet unlike Jack and others, once on the Island Locke no longer seek’s closure or approval from his father. For Locke, the Island is an opportunity to set aside the past. But he can’t, can he? His faith in himself, in the Island, in his destiny … it is tormented by the failures of his life. His every weakness is driven by having been emotionally dismantled by his father.
Others do seek closure, and often get it. Sun’s father, a tyrannical and ruthless businessman, turned the man she loved into a distant, violent criminal. She does not let go of her father’s actions here. Once off the island, she purchases a majority stake in his company and makes clear to her father that he is nothing to her, closing the door on her father issues.
Jin, too, had daddy issues, but his are more modest. He’s simply ashamed of his father, who is a poor fisherman. Jin confronts his father, explains his shame, and purges himself of guilt.
The end of Sawyer’s daddy issues are far messier. Interestingly, his conflict is with Locke’s father, not his own. Not that Sawyer’s experience with his own father does not haunt him. How could it not? While hiding under a bed as a child, Sawyer’s father shot his mother and then took his own life. Sawyer witnessed it all. Needless to say, his is a dark burden. It was Locke’s father, though, who set into motion the chain of events that led to this tragedy, the same chain of events that led to Sawyer killing an innocent man in Australia. So, when given a chance to confront the man who ruined his life, Sawyer finds closure in the darkest of ways … by strangling Locke’s father to death.
If Sawyer’s father issues are dark, Kate Austen’s are just as dark. Living with an drunken, abusive father — a man she thought was her step father — Kate is finally pushed to the edge and kills him. She abandons all she loves to flee the law. And she must flee the law, because her own mother is the person who turned her in. Her flight informs all she is when she reaches the island. She’s afraid of opening herself to others. She will not trust. She can not trust.
Michael Dawson’s father issues are not about his father, but about being a father, while Claire’s are similar (though maternal) but more layered. She’s confronted with her baby not having a father, and then briefly with the idea of the baby’s potential step-father being a heroin addict (Charlie). Claire also copes with an absent father (who happens to be Jack’s dad). When we first meet him, Michael’s son, Walt, is dealing with a step-father who doesn’t want him and a father who doesn’t know how to be a father. All of these characters are swimming in parental uncertainty.
Even less prominent cast members are burdened with parent issues. Miles, the man who can speak to the dead we first meet in season 4, never knew his father. When he finally discovers who is father is in season 5 — the enigmatic doctor from the DHARMA training videos — he refuses to confront him, and when the truth is told his father at first refuses to believe it. Meanwhile, the delightfully quirky Daniel Faraday has both both daddy and mommy issues. His mother manipulates him into events that she knows will kill him, while his father is the heartless businessman Charles Widmore — who also happens to be the father of Penny, Desmond’s wife.
The show’s daddy issues are seemingly endless.
The cautionary tale of all these crushing father issues might just be Ben Linus, the villain everyone loves to hate. (He’s the best character on television since Deadwood’s Al Swearengen, thanks in large part to Michael Emerson’s amazing performance.) Like all of the characters listed above, Ben had issues with his father. Issues enough so that the troubled Ben kills his father. And he does so with no repentance. No pity. No grief. Kills him and dozens of others.
Ben goes on to become a loving yet also terrible father, a man who loves his (abducted) daughter but also allows his need to win, manipulate, and maneuver to get her killed.
A common theme of the show is redemption. Atonement. But for Ben, there is no redemption. He does not seek to make up for his ill deeds. The Island’s reward to him is to make him the leader of the Others. A strange reward indeed, and seemingly counter to the notion of the castaways finding atonement on the Island, but as the finale to season 5, “The Incident,” shows us, things are clearly not all we’ve been led to believe. Ben’s role as leader may have been something a bit deeper. A bit more sinister. Maybe even a punishment of sorts.
So what’s the deal with Lost’s immense stack of father-troubled characters? Is this common thread purposeful, or did it just turn out that way? Are Jacob and Esau (the name the Lost fan community has given to Jacob’s mysterious nemesis) glorified parental figures? Are the castaways not simply pawns in their game, but something more? Something akin to Jacob and Esau’s adopted children, manipulated even as their real parents manipulated them?
Or am I tilting at windmills?
Something to think about.
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