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“Lost” – Episode 15 – Homecoming

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Is there such a thing as too much character development? The very fabric of “Lost” is build upon the idea that our intrepid castaways all bring extensive emotional baggage to the island, revealed to us in bits and pieces when certain events from their pasts seem to bear on the current situation in the show. But tonight, when we were given our second look at the sad, sordid tale of has-been musician Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), his character became a little bit less interesting.

Charlie’s constant doting on the pregnant Claire (Emilie de Ravin) was endearing, and the slow build of their relationship reached a gripping climax when Claire was quite literally snatched away earlier in the season. Her abduction affected a transformation in Charlie, perhaps the first real present-tense character development we’ve seen in the show. In fact, Charlie is probably the only character who’s actually changed in any significant way since the crash. In literary terms, that would make him the hero of this story, as opposed to the natural leader Jack (Matthew Fox), who fills the leading man role well, but is largely static.

Unfortunately, the writers felt that Charlie needed a reason to be protective of Claire, so viewers were treated to a less-than-flattering anecdote from Charlie’s drug-addled, post-rock-star days, when he had to resort to picking up rich women in bars and stealing from them just to secure a fix. Now, previously, we saw how Charlie’s brother got him hooked on drugs and then cleaned up his act, only to leave Charlie as a pitiful junkie. The additional knowledge and supposed motivation took something away from his character, rather than add to it. The idea that Charlie is taking care of Claire to make up for his past wrongs seem disingenuous, if not outright forced.

There appears to be genuine affection between the two of them, and, frankly, that should be enough.

On the other hand, the menacing, mysterious Ethan makes a great villain precisely because he has no back story whatsoever. In fact, he’s the only character without a history on the whole show. Sawyer, the show’s ostensible antagonist (or anti-hero, if you prefer) is a right bastard, but his whole awful persona was explained away by a not-very-convincing childhood trauma. Even the crazy French woman was given a reason for going nuts and killing her companions. Ethan has no explicit reason for his sadistic hunting of the castaways – he is just plain evil. As such, it was only fitting that he met his end before anyone was able to extract information from him. If we knew why he was stalking, kidnapping, and killing our heroes, it would be a far less interesting set of circumstances all together. As it is, the mystery endures.

Character development is key for a series like “Lost” that is driven solely by the interactions and conflicts of its cast, but there is such a thing as too much back story. If the writers are smart, they’ll shift the focus to the present tense and allow us to see some real changes among the many personalities on the island, and move away from trying to use personal histories to explain away every single action or thought.

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  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Interesting point, Scott. I think if JJ Abrams has a fault (and he’s a brilliant lonely voice in TV these days) it’s that he always opts for plot or plot twist over character development. Everything is a set up for a surprise, a reveal, a betrayal. Lost is a great mechanism for this — there’s a huge cast and no end to the surprise/reveal/betrayal cycle in store for us (note the preview for next week, where the love triangle heats up between Jack and the bank robbing woman and the Texan scammer guy (I’m not good with character names…).

    It would have been nice if Charlie befriended Claire simply out of his good nature, but there was always something manic and anxious about it, so in that sense it was a good set-up… a JJ Abrams set-up.

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    Don’t get me wrong, Eric–I am a huge fan of J.J. Abrams, all the way back to his “Felicity” days. I just think that, occassionally, he errs on the side of too much information rather than not enough. We don’t need a clear-cut, obvious reason for why each of the characters acts the way they do, but the show seems to be moving in that direction.

    I think the back-stories can be done very well, as it was with Kate (shown in reverse chronological order: first on the lam in Australia, and then committing the bank robbery that sent her on the run) and with John Locke (probably still my favorite episode so far). But with characters like Sawyer (the Texas scammer guy) and Charlie, it seems like the background info is just there so the viewer has an easy touchstone for saying, “Oh, that’s why he’s an asshole” or “Oh, that’s why he’s such a nice guy,” respectively.

    I don’t think Charlie had to necessarily befriend Claire out of his good nature, but I also don’t think we needed to know so explicitly why he was so anxious and manic.

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    As for the “love triangle,” I has plenty of that nonsense with last season’s “Alias.”

  • dbcooper

    Character development is key for a series like “Lost” that is driven solely by the interactions and conflicts of its cast, but there is such a thing as too much back story. If the writers are smart, they’ll shift the focus to the present tense and allow us to see some real changes among the many personalities on the island, and move away from trying to use personal histories to explain away every single action or thought.

    I’m with you there Scott. I watched this show with great dedication during the first 5-6 weeks and became so frustrated with the flashbacks that I rarely watch it now. In my opinion, the program grinds to a complete halt during the flashbacks, and they are so cliched as to be dreadfully dull (rock star addict, father and son Dr. battles, Iraq soldier/torturer, jilted pregnant woman, female bank robber)…..

    If Lost would stick to the present tense, it would be fascinating. The flashbacks are so “been there, done that” that I usually get up and look for chip dip in the fridge. I wonder if the large number of flashbacks are a way for the program to cut finance corners – less time on location, more time in the studio. But the premise of the show itself is limited. If all the drama takes place only on the island, eventually The Mosquitoes will have to arrive and peform an impromptu concert (obscure cultural reference!)….

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Someone please help me out here: I missed the Locke episode (along with a few early ones): what the hell is his deal?

    He’s one of the best characters on the show, and I’m glad this actor got a much more interesting role than the one-dimensional Kendal on Alias.

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    —SPOILER WARNING—

    As we learn in an early episode, Locke worked in a typical, white-collar, cubicle farm job (apparently at a “box company” as he tells Boone), but he was very big into “adventure survival” type stuff. The only problem was, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, he booked a trip to Australia for what appeared to be some sort of rugged, Outback trek, but was quite understandably turned down when the guide realized he was in a wheelchair (I think we’ve actually seen the wheelchair a few times in the wreckage of the plane).

    When the plane crashes (in the pilot), our first view of Locke is as he gradually flexes his legs, sits up, realizes that he is no longer paralyzed, and then starts to laugh like a maniac. Of course, this reaction makes much more sense with 20/20 hindsight than it did the first time around.

    The brillance of the episode in which Locke’s story was revealed was that we didn’t see him in his wheelchair until the final 10 minutes or so. All of the shots were carefully planned so he was sitting down, but it was not clear that he was paralyzed. The “reveal” in the final moments of that episode was priceless — probably the best single moment of the show so far.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Scott — sweet, thanks.

  • Matt Egan

    Great stuff Scott. Thanks!

  • http://www.thebeautifullull.com Tom Johnson

    I thought this was an excellent episode – in fact, better than quite a few of the ones we’ve gotten lately. I felt the exposition on Charlie really added to his character, making his actions at the end of the episode make a little more sense. This was one of the few times that I’ve really enjoyed the backstory more than the action on the island. And now Charlie has shown that he too is the opposite of what he was in “regular” life – just as we’ve seen happen for most of the other characters.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Cooper: The flashbacks are entirely neccesary. Without them, the characters are just people left on the island. Can they develop them in another way? Sure. But is *spoiler* Kate simply telling Jack she robbed banks as exciting as seeing it? No, not at all. It gives the show another dimension as the side story slowly builds as the main story does alongside it. That keeps people watching.

  • Tal

    I think you’re missing the point of the show. It’s not about the island. It’s not about present-day, per se. It’s about each individual character, and telling their stories. All of them have very interesting backstories, which are relevant to what’s happening to them in present-day. If you find it boring to find out more about each character than just why they were on the plane, I’d suggest switching over to a show that’s more action-oriented rather than character-driven. Just as the show’s time scale is slowed down, so is its exploration of the characters and their motiviations. If you want whiz-bang instant gratification, you’re not going to find it on Lost. It’s a more sophisticated show for patient viewers. It’s not a video game.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    I somewhat disagree, it is a video game, a multiplayer game, where characters, their traits, decisions and capabilities count much more than plot, which is just the framework for the characters to act in.

    While it is my personal theory of “Lost” that it is a multi-player role playing game, that is only a theory. However, if you have seen a number of Dennis Potter’s tele-plays, especially “The Singing Detective”, the character driven elements, and shifting persona will seem very familiar.

    Over at TWoP, they seem to be splitting between plot (chocolate) and character (peanut butter), and who got what in what.

    And you can’t go wrong with a show which has a character puking into a office copier during a job interview.

  • dbcooper

    Tal,

    I’m glad to see you are a passionate Lost viewer. I will be honest and say there is very, very little on regular TV that appeals to me. I mainly watch Six Feet Under, Carnival, Sopranos and reruns of Seinfeld.

    I’ve read too many fine novels and seen too many good films to ever really find anything interesting in Lost. If the back drama rose above the level of derivative-soap-opera (which is really all Lost is, a soap opera on an island), I think the flashbacks might interest me. I have found only one character to be unique and not pulled from files as old as Dr. Kildare and that is the story of Locke.

    Otherwise, the flashbacks bore me fiercely as I have been-there-done-that…..Background, when properly done, can be accomplished through strong writing and dialogue inspired by situations on the island. I think the flashbacks are too extensive and take up far too much time of the program. I hope they get away from that.

    I am not familiar with the ratings of this show, but if I had to guess, I would imagine they have dropped considerably from opening weeks. If I am wrong, well, it will not be the first time I have misjudged the taste of American TV viewers.

  • http://halfbakered.blogspot.com mike hollihan

    dbcooper, of course the ratings have dropped, that’s a given with any drama show that depends on viewers having seen previous episodes.

    Scott, two points:

    No disrepsect, but your retelling of the Locke backstory ep completely misses the power of it. The first flashback begins when we see Locke stomp off from an argument with the words “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” We are slowly led to think that Locke is some survivalist-angry white man-loner whackjob. Crummy job, picked on, his girlfriend is paid for, military fetish, tabletop wargames. Everytime we see him in the flashbacks, he always says, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” to someone. By the time he’s in Australia for the walkabout, he’s screaming it to the tour guide. It’s only then that the camera pulls back and we learned he’s in a wheelchair. It’s then that everything we’ve thought about the guy is upended and we have to see him in a very different light. The rightwing stereotype is slammed up against the leftwing stereotype of the brave, disabled person not being given a chance.

    What’s happened to Locke on the island is a religious experience. He can walk again. He’s on a “for real” survivalist adventure. He can re-invent himself completely free of the baggage of expectation. He’s met the scariest things on the island — the boars and the mystery beast — and either bested them or found them beautiful. It’s not “faith” in the sense of belief in things unseen or unproved. He’s seen them and experienced them. He *knows* his faith is real.

    Jack is the alpha male. Both Locke and Sawyer are the betas. But I think Locke will eventually strike out on his own. He’s already starting to. Unconsciously or not, he picking and grooming followers (Charlie, Walt, Boone) by finding those who are emotionally troubled and guiding them to their answers.

    Also, on the way the show in structured: This can lead to a dangerous over-reliance on “flashbacks” to provide answers for difficult plots. Need someone who can build a raft? Viola, Unseen Passenger #21 appears and it seems they used to build rafts as a hobby! How ’bout that?

    On the Charlie ep, I thought it was good. Charlie’s has been drawn to Claire. We learn that the last woman Charlie promised to look after, he didn’t, at least in part because of the drug habit. Now he’s licked the drug habit, but can he prove that he’s man enough to keep his word? He’s been shown that he has to prove himself, which pushed him, which led to the terrible death of Ethan.

    As you can guess, I really love this show. I can’t wait for the Hurley flashback episodes.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!

    Having finally gotten around to watching this episode, I have now allowed myself to read this post. Sorry, man, I think you missed the boat. The flashbacks weren’t there to explain why Charlie befriended Claire, but rather why he picked up the gun near the end of the episode.

    We could question whether the moment would have been more powerful if they had left it unexplained, but just think about it. Without the backstory, what would you be thinking now? I’ll tell you, you would be cursing Charlie up one side and down the other. As it is, you can be annoyed with his short-sightedness, perhaps, but that’s about it.

    And yeah, Scott, you totally blew it in the description. :-)

  • http://halfbakered.blogspot.com mike hollihan

    Oh, more on Locke.

    For everyone else on the island, they are scared, confused and think they are there by accident. It’s a horrible sidetrip in the lives.

    Locke understands differently. It’s not a sidetrip, but the purpose. As he said in his backstory ep, “I’ve waited my whole life for this.” He’s on the ultimate survival challenge. For him, it’s all black and white. Face the internal challenges, conquer them. Then face the external challenges and conquer them too. By his lights, he’s the only one doing that and winning.

    By Locke’s lights, Jack is a prevaricator, which will be his undoing. Torture is wrong, except when we need it. Guns are wrong, except when we need it. Play is wrong, except when we need it.

    Locke understands that Jack is the alpha male, but sees him as dangerously flawed, indecisive and unclear. At what point will Locke decide that Jack can’t do it, and he should make a play for leadership himself?

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Mike – Great analysis about Locke — I really think you’re close to figuring him out — or as close as anyone can be at this point!

    I’m starting to think that the entire thematic underbelly of the show is that everyone’s purpose is to be on the island. How long Abrams can keep the reason why floating out there will determine how classic this already great show will be.

    I’m fascinated to learn more about Claire and her baby. The creepy tarot guy (who warned Claire that her baby was in great danger… and who may have accidentally-on purpose lured Claire toward her fate) is at the back of my mind every Wednesday evening.

    A lot of people seem to be very interested in the likely upcoming Hurley flash-back episode. He’s a likeable character, but I’m wondering what the hell could be revealed there?

  • Josh

    I know that people are a little tired of the flashback scenes, but it is necessary (at least for this season). This season, I think, acts as a setup for the rest of the show’s running. We are getting to know the characters, what they are about, who they are. It allows you to find one you can relate to or who you hate. Once the character’s backgrounds are established, I think that the show will focus more on the present. Until then, I’m just gonna sit back and enjoy it all.
    Also, anybody got any ideas on what the “big bad” in the jungle is?

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I think it’s possible that much of the big bad is in the mind’s of the characters.

    It also just struck me last night — absolutely great episode, by the way — that Lost refers to both a physical and mental state of mind. All of the characters on the show are lost in some fundamental way… and may have been led to the island — or were drawn there — for some reason. For good, for bad, who knows? But there was a depth to last night’s show that was outstanding: salvation, redemption, good, evil: all the best things.

    And the scene with Sawyer and Jack’s dad was tremendous. Sawyer is quickly becoming one of the most interesting characters overall.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    I’m finding it interesting that all the characters have somehow met/known about each other in the past, even if that meeting was fleeting. Something huge will come from that.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Matt – Who else has met each other? I missed about four early episodes (damn the Gods for not granting my TiVo…).

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Well, I’m not particularly good with names, so bear with me. Jack and the Chinese guy were in the same airport for the flight. The kid that slept with his sister was in a police station when Sawyer was being arrested. Obviously this week, Sawyer met Jacks dad. I’m thinking there was another, but I’m having a brain lock moment.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Scott,

    I put this up too at Advance.net where hopefully millions of people will love and adore your every word.

    - Thank you. Temple

  • Toby

    Matt, he’s not a Chinese guy, he’s Korean.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    For fans of Angel: the Korean dude also played Gavin of Wolfram & Hart fame over a couple of seasons.

  • Jim

    Who played Eric’s Dad in “Lost” and what was the characters name?