A Character Driven Narrative


At its center ABC’s drama LOST is a show about characters. While some may argue that mystery is the epitome of the show I would respond by saying mystery and curiosity is what drives the excellent character building in LOST. By the end of the show’s two Pilot episodes the viewer has been introduced to over fourteen characters and has developed each of their personalities to a point of interest. These characters as well the characters added in later seasons and even the Island itself grow tremendously over the course of the show as we learn more about their backstories thanks to flashbacks before the plane crash and their experiences on the Island. To this day I haven’t found a show with such a wealth of characters each with intriguing and developed stories.

Flashbacks is the series main hallmark and it gives us a picture of each survivor’s life before the crash. While the Pilot episode looks at the story of three passengers on the plane the show moves past that and each episode follows a specific character. Originally created because the show’s creators were worried audiences would get bored quickly with the island setting it turned into a perfect way of developing the main characters. While the basic structure of an episode is simple: character deals with situation on the island, flashback to a specific moment in their past that relates to the current circumstances and repeat, it’s the character story that keeps the viewer coming back. This is especially true for characters like Sayid, Sun, and Jin whose flashback episodes in the first season provide what on the outset looks like a boring character with complex layers that will define them for seasons to come.


However LOST doesn’t save all of its character development for the flashbacks. The pilot episode focuses mostly on our main hero Jack Shepard as he wakes up in the jungle unclear of his surroundings. After exiting the jungle the first thing Jack does is work to rescue survivors from the burning wreckage moving from one person to the other in rapid succession. The intensity of the scene is highlighted by Michael Giacchino’s score. The dialogue in this scene is sparse so the action of the characters does all the talking. We see that Jack is someone who wants to help people and is good at doing so explaining how to correctly give mouth to mouth resuscitation, ask a pregnant woman about how far along in her pregnancy she is, and bandage a wound. After the excitement of this scene dies down Jack wanders off to patch his own injury from the crash demonstrating his want to help others before himself. Here we meet Kate another one of our main characters and we finally learn our first fact about Jack, he’s a surgeon. Yet the show as already been slowly developing this idea so when Jack says those words it’s earned.

Michael Giacchino has the best titles for his music

One of my favorite aspects of the show’s characters is that they are all flawed in a major way. Though Jack Shepard is great as a leader and generally wants to help his constant desire to fix problems causes him to be upset and lose his temper.

I just shot a polar bear

Sawyer, who is assumed to be a typical southern tough guy and shoots a polar bear in the second part of the pilot episode to prove his macho man quality actually has one of the most damaging pasts. The death of his parents when he was only eight and taking the nickname of “Sawyer” from his parent’s killer. However, the character I find the most interesting has to be John Locke. Another character whose past has left him broken both physically and emotionally finds healing power on the island. Confined to a wheelchair before the crash John amazingly can walk on the island perfectly. Most of his speeches are full of the word destiny and he finds his calling as a protector of the island seeking to discover its myths and mysteries.

Locke’s catchphrase

The way the characters interact with each other and the relationships that form is another great way the show develops each of these individuals. Rivalries and alliances are an every episode occurrence on LOST and hearken back to the original basis of the show which was Survivor. One of the biggest rivalries in the show exists between Jack and John and also illustrates one of the show’s main themes: Faith vs. Science. While John is described as a Man of Faith, Jack is a Man of Science. When the two come to head the fire inside of them is extremely evident.

Let me answer your question with a question

The theme stood out to me in particular coming from a religious background. A specific scene I found powerful happens later in the first season after Boone’s death John is crying and banging against the hatch door shouting about how he trusted the island and now it’s taken his friend’s life. Just then a beam of light erupts from the hatch window shooting up into the night sky. John takes this as a sign to continue his work and continue trusting the island’s power. However, in the next season we find out more about the hatch’s occupant and realize that he was the one who turned on the light. While John is the readiest to believe character on the island he still struggles with his faith. I think this portrays the struggle of many religious people including myself. Meanwhile the character of Jack who has seen events beyond belief still holds to his scientific principles which is a strong example of a non-religious person. It’s a theme explored many times throughout the series and one I find most interesting.

Another one of my favorite aspects of the show is the way it relates to popular culture. Books, movies, TV shows, and art are all present and are discussed by characters. Some of the episode titles are ripped directly from book or movie titles. There is entire database on Lostipedia that goes over each cultural reference the show has made. The best part is that these are rarely just fun nods from the writers but actually hold importance to the plot and understanding the characters more. The third episode of the first season is titled Tabula Rasa which translates to blank state. While first introduced by Aristotle, John Locke the scholar also wrote about it which is a fun connection right there for the audience. But understanding what Tabula Rasa means gives the audience a better understanding of the main theme of this episode, new beginnings. Kate is a convict who has the opportunity for a blank slate here on the island, and the same is true for many of the other survivors.

These are just a few of the reasons that LOST is one of my favorite shows but the main one being the development of these incredible characters. They were what kept me coming back each episode and I believe that LOST helped usher in a focus on character in the television shows of the future. The mystery surrounding each character’s past was dished out just enough in their centric episodes to give the viewer some satisfaction while also making us crave for more details. That is until we watched another character’s episode and were hooked on them. There is an interesting article that discusses how LOST benefited from not having to deal with the current stressehxfI7rs of social media that present shows do. While I’m conflicted about social media’s impact on current television I think it’s an interesting argument nonetheless. Besides that, I cannot name a single character from LOST that I wasn’t engaged with and curious about their story. That’s the power a show like LOST has when it develops characters not only well but also creatively.


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