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.