Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wasting Away in Dharmaville: My Five Favorite Lost Characters

As a lot of the shows I usually cover here on MTVP are on an extended hiatus due to next month’s Olympics in Vancouver, and Lost, one of my all-time favorite shows, will be entering its final season soon, it only seems natural that I supplement my usual recaps with a little extra Lost content. I need to get through more episodes in the Great Lost Rewatch before I feel prepared to do a Lost equivalent of my 15 Most Legendary Episodes of HIMYM series or do any “Classic” Recaps of my favorite episodes, so I figured I’d start small. Ryan McGee over at the fabulous Lost blog (go there for seriously nerdy, seriously interesting in-depth Lost theorizing . . . I mean it!) got some pretty nasty comments for his Top 25 Characters List, but I figure I have an advantage. Even though my list is sort of unconventional, none of the few people I know who actually read this blog are Lost fans, so I probably won’t catch much flack for it!

First things first, I’ve got to hand out an honorable mention. Initially, a list of five characters seemed like it would be easy to compile. Then I got to thinking about it, and I realized that I just couldn’t limit myself to five- the depth of compelling characters on Lost is just too great. I did, at least, manage to confine myself to only one honorable mention, unlike in my Desert Island Discs post. That honorable mention goes to jumpy physics genius Daniel Faraday. Even though by the end of his character arc in “The Variable,” it’s obvious that there’s a lot more going on in Daniel’s radiation-addled brain than he lets on, most of the time I just want to give him a hug.

5. Juliet Burke

Juliet is by far one of the more successful new character introductions on Lost (with the infamous Nikki and Paulo on the other side of the spectrum). Her introduction to the series in the Season 3 premiere is iconic. It’s the first time we get to see the Oceanic 815 crash from the point of view of the Others and the first time we see how the Others truly live. It’s a massive fake-out, as Juliet appears to be preparing for a normal, suburban book club meeting that is interrupted by what at first seems like an earth quake. I like that Juliet has a clear character arc (up until The Incident, that is, but I’ve already ranted about that numerous times here). Back home, she was a push over, completely controlled by her ex-husband. On the Island, she was able to become more of her own person. She still sometimes found herself manipulated by Ben (most tragically when he purposely sent her lover Goodwin to his death), but Juliet learned to take a stand. One of the things that make her so fascinating is that until the time skips start in Season 5, you never know which side she’s truly on. One second, like when she sends a creepy video message to Jack, she seems to be on the side of the Losties. Next thing you know, she’s leaving a message for Ben telling him that Sun is pregnant. She has learned to be cunning and tough on the Island, and she’s a more interesting character for it.

4. Danielle Rousseau

I imagine this would be my most controversial choice if many Lost fans actually read this blog. Danielle isn’t an especially frequently recurring character, after all. I am just always amused by her particular brand of crazy. I prefer the present-day, portrayed by Mira Furlan, version of Danielle (not surprising considering the crazy is what I like about her), but the Young Danielle of season 5 was intriguing as well. Two late season 3 episodes cemented me as a die-hard Rousseau fan. The first was “The Brig,” where she was responsible for one of the biggest laughs Lost ever got out of me. You may question why I would laugh during “The Brig,” considering its biggest moment is the extremely disturbing tableau of Sawyer killing Anthony Cooper via strangulation with a chain. Before all that, though, there’s Danielle Rousseau looking for dynamite. And running into Locke. Rousseau and Locke totally could have been Crazy King and Queen of the Island had they not been unceremoniously killed off. The scene made me laugh because my initial reaction was that a crazy “French chick” looking for dynamite just couldn’t end well. I also liked the bit that I refer to as the “Dysfunctional Family Portrait” in “Through the Looking Glass,” the season 3 finale. Danielle is finally reunited with her long-lost daughter Alex, who had been kidnapped by the Others just days after her birth. Ben, who raised Alex as his daughter, is harassing the Losties, and one of the first things Danielle does upon meeting her daughter is ask Alex to help her tie Ben up.

3. Ben Linus

Although Ben’s importance to the series seems to be waning (it looks like there’s a bigger battle going on above his pay grade between Jacob and the Man in Black), he is right at the center of all the drama and intrigue in my favorite seasons of the show, seasons 3 and 4. He even manages to make quite an impact in season 2, my least favorite season. The scene at the end of “The Whole Truth” where Ben casually asks “You guys got any milk?” after describing in detail how he would kill the Losties that went out in search of Ben’s true identity, is creepy perfection. Ben has a tendency to be both a petulant child and a master manipulator, which is a dangerous combination for sure, and it’s probably why he’s my favorite TV villain. In his heyday, he was truly frightening. No matter how docile he appeared at any one moment (especially when held in captivity by the Losties), it was obvious that some scheme was being formed in his head. He certainly could never be trusted, and if you got on his bad side, you were in trouble. It was especially fascinating to watch him in season 3 when he was actually fully in command of the Others. He deftly moved all the pieces in place to manipulate Jack into performing surgery on his spinal tumor, and until he started taking things personally at the end of the season and decided that the new plan to combat the Island pregnancy dilemma should be to kidnap every Lostie woman, he had the respect and obedience of the rest of the Others.

2. James “Sawyer” Ford

Josh Holloway is certainly nice to look at, and he has chemistry with any actress the Lost producers decide to pair him with, but that’s not why Sawyer is so high on this list. I believe that Sawyer has the most clear, satisfying character arc of any character on Lost. For most of season 1 he’s the outsider and nobody, except maybe Kate, cares to deal with him, and they certainly don’t trust him. Sometimes the other Losties have good reason not to trust Sawyer. He certainly is very protective of his stash, for instance. There’s also the pesky matter of his “long con” in season 2, but that can be explained by my next point. Sawyer has invested a lot emotionally in his “Sawyer” persona. As Kate astutely observes as far back as season 1’s “Confidence Man,” Sawyer wants people to hate him.

This all starts to change in season 3 when Jack is still with the Others and Kate has taken Sayid to rescue him. Hurley gently convinces Sawyer that the remaining Losties need him to step up as a leader. I think that’s when he really starts to value his community. The fact that he gets past his “Sawyer” baggage by killing Anthony Cooper, the “original Sawyer” in “The Brig” certainly facilitates this transition as well. At first I wondered how the character of Sawyer could continue on from a storytelling perspective after he achieved the goal he revealed way back in early season 1, but I needn’t have worried. We see in season 4 that he has close connections with Claire and Hurley, and he’s willing to die for either of them. In season 5 we see the full manifestation of James Ford as leader when he becomes LaFleur, Head of Security, to the 1970’s Dharma Initiative. He’s a fairly cerebral, as opposed to impulsive, leader, which makes sense considering he’s always been a bookworm.

1. Desmond Hume

After realizing just how wonderfully crafted Sawyer’s character arc is, I’m having trouble justifying why Desmond is here in the top spot on my list, but I’ll give it a shot. Just about every Desmond-centric episode will likely make it into my Top 15 episodes of Lost series that I intend to start in a few weeks. Two Desmond-centric episodes, “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and “The Constant” (especially “The Constant”) work especially well as stand-alone episodes and are therefore more accessible to new viewers. Desmond-centric episodes, because of Desmond’s propensity to find his consciousness traveling through time, are some of the more thought-provoking, mind-bending episodes of Lost. I adore the Desmond/Penny romance. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to what I’ve dubbed the “Love Quadrangle of Doom.” Desmond and Penny truly love each other, and even though they most certainly go through a heck of a rough patch, they work hard and find their way back to each other.

Other characters keep calling Desmond a coward, but ultimately, he’s a pretty heroic character. He turns the failsafe key, risking almost certain death to save the people he has met on the Island. When faced with an impossible ethical dilemma, to save his good friend Charlie or be reunited with the love of his life Penny, he chooses to save Charlie and accept the consequences. In season 5, when Ben threatens Penny, Desmond physically bests Ben and makes sure that Ben will not be a threat to his family again. There are still things I want to learn about Desmond, such as why he was in that military prison, and I want to see why Daniel said Desmond was uniquely special. I hope that Henry Ian Cusick’s legal troubles don’t prevent these stories from being told, although if Desmond’s absence from the second half of season 5 is any indication, I have a sinking feeling that Desmond might go the way of Walt or Libby. And that would just be a shame.

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