Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lost and Character Development

Instead of trying to do one mega post about Lost I am going to do several smaller posts. I figure they will be easier to read and digest and a little easier to write. So let’s get it on. I am telling you now, don’t read on if you want to watch Lost now or at any point in the future. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you.

In a previous post on this blog, I hinted at the ability of the writers to make me love and hate each and every person on the island. I went through phases of whom I hated. First, it was Sawyer (also James, but I will refer to him as Sawyer from here on out). Then it was Kate and then it was Shannon and then it was Sawyer again. The point being, I felt like I needed a whole two seasons to really know who I could trust like I was on the island myself, fighting for a way off.

Lost begins with an eye opening (literally) and a plane crash on a seemingly deserted island. The struggle is established right away, an advantage not all stories have. Because of this, the writers could start character development right away with stories and flashbacks from each and every actor of the enormous cast. I was learning as much about the history of the survivors on the island as I was about their struggle to get off it. Since character development occurred so early in Lost, by the end of the second season there was a plethora of characters you knew better than characters from other TV series you may have been watching for twice as long.

Consider Mr. Eko, who appeared in 27 episodes. Mr. Eko was a deeply religious character who had converted to Christianity after his previous life as a drug lord had led to the shooting of his younger brother, who just so happened to be a priest who had died (as a result of the shooting) during a flight or upon crash-landing on the island himself, the same island Eko would later crash-land on. In his childhood, Eko saved his brother from being a child soldier in Africa. Rebels had come to the village in which Eko and his brother lived. They had corralled the kids and were trying to make Eko’s brother shoot an unarmed man. This was an initiation, which Eko would not let pass. He stepped in, took the gun from his brother and promptly shot the unarmed man. The rebels loaded Eko up in a truck and from that point, until much later in his life, he was a killer, a child soldier forced into horrific situations beyond imagination. And he did all this so his brother wouldn’t have to. Eko knew, even as a young boy, that he was sacrificing his innocence and, perhaps, salvation in order to save his brother. And this is just information we are given about Eko’s time before he was on the island.

On the island, Eko is at first an enforcer in the second surviving group from Oceanic 815. He was peculiarly quiet and very intimidating considering his size, demeanor and the club he wheeled around, which he would occasionally inscribe the numbers to Bible verses on. Eko the enforcer, soon becomes Eko the protector, and someone who has the power to put a leash on Ana Lucia (the self-proclaimed leader of the second surviving group) when she goes on another power trip. Upon the union of the two groups of survivors, Eko becomes a good friend to John Locke and Charlie. He believes, even before he finds his dead brother, that he was brought to the island for a reason. He feels a spiritual connection to the island, even if he doesn’t know exactly what it is that will meet him in the jungle. Eko starts to see things on the island, things that only Eko can see. For example, his dead brother helps him find another hatch. Although a devout man, Eko doesn’t seem to believe in his forgiveness. He is constantly in pursuit of it and when he starts to see his brother’s ghost on the island he views following the ghost as a means to an end, his regaining of that innocence he lost when he shot the unarmed man so many years ago in his village.

And then, just when you thought Eko might be there to the end, he is killed off with little explanation. We learn later on that the person he thought was his brother wasn’t necessarily always his brother, but that’s not the point. The point of all this is that Eko is an amazingly deep character with a tragic arc you could make a movie out of, but on Lost, he was one of many developed characters and all of a sudden he was dead. I have never watched a show where so much time was spent on character development. It must have been a luxury for the writers to know that when they killed Eko off, they had another 16 or so characters that would still be around and each one of those characters had their own complex history and story that needed to be fleshed out. Eko’s death was probably very difficult to write and it was a disappointment to see him go, but he was a pawn in a much larger story and although the writers never made me hate him, even temporarily, I understood why he had to go. But like many events on the show, I didn’t truly understand their purpose until the end.

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