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'Lost': Jack pursues a career as a lighthouse keeper

 How much do you like it when "Lost" characters wander around the Island as though on a wild-goose chase, often led that way by the mysterious forces of the Island itself? How much do you enjoy scenes where Jack tries to grapple with just how much his father did him wrong as a kid? And how much do you like it when the characters, faced with the possibility of learning more and more about the Island, destroy the very thing that could tell them more? If you don't like any of those things, you might not have liked "Lighthouse," which has all of them in spades. 

And yet, I'm someone who finds many of the episodes where the characters are led around like gullible goofs frustrating, and I still really liked "Lighthouse," largely because it took a flash-sideways I thought was going nowhere -- the story of Jack and his alternate universe son -- and made it somehow sweetly resonant with the character's journey. It also had a jungle trek that seemed wander-y at points but ended up being fun in a season one way, rather than frustrating in a season two way. And, finally, it had Jin's good times being held captive by Claire and his slow realization that he was way, way in over his head. "Lighthouse" isn't nearly close to "The Substitute" in terms of "Lost" quality, but it does what it does well enough for me to enjoy it.

But, as seems to be becoming our tradition, let's talk about Jack.

Jack, as most "Lost" fans know, was supposed to be killed in the pilot. He was going to be the guy that you latched on to straight off, only to see him taken away, the better to let the audience know that up was down and anything could happen. ABC's executives prevailed, and Jack got to live, played with a rather feral intensity by Matthew Fox at his best moments. But once Jack didn't die, it sometimes seemed as if the show didn't know what to do with him, as if the series was forever stuck on its notion of removing the hero from the story and became more interested in deconstructing the classic hero archetype than it was in building a new spin on that archetype. For every great Jack moment -- his near-torturing of Boone in an effort to "save" him -- there were a dozen clumsy ones, like when the show briefly tried to turn him into a George W. Bush analogue in mid-season two.

But since the end of season three -- "We have to go back, Kate!" -- Jack has become something different entirely. He's a man who now moves with a purpose and a sense of duty. He, in a real way, finally knows why he's alive. To me, the key moment of new Jack is in the season five premiere, when Ben takes him into his apartment and tells him to pack everything he needs or wants, because he won't be seeing any of it again. Jack's quiet acceptance of this fact and, indeed, his sheer relief at hearing these words show him as a man who's given up trying to take on fate and has simply given in to being someone who accepts that he is caught up in something beyond himself, something that is revealing his own weaknesses and fears.

In a weird way, Jack has turned into the flip side of Locke in a way that I'm not sure was wholly intentional (though once the series figured out it was doing this, it certainly made much out of it). If Locke was the man who always believed he was going to be something great, then found a way to be great only to have it stolen away from him, Jack was the man who never dared dream he could be great, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. And, when given the chance to reach for more, he kept throwing it away. It's only when he's off the Island, when he's stumbling through a life that somehow seems less real than the one filled with sentient clouds of smoke and four-toed statues, that he begins to realize what was taken from him and tries to get it back. It's the cruel flip side of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," a man who is taken out of a dream and put back in real life only to realize that the dream was so much better.

118260_134_pre Now, I should probably be honest. If you haven't guessed, I'm not a huge fan of Jack. I don't think he's the worst character on the show or anything, and I can appreciate what he brings the series in terms of a conventional hero figure. I'd even go so far as to say that I find seasons four through six Jack largely tolerable, though I found seasons one through three Jack enervating on even his best days. Jack's a big example of one of the things the show does that can be so irritating: creating situations where the show could answer a bunch of big questions and then slowly slinking away from them, tail between its legs. Jack's the guy who is so interested in his own leadership abilities, his own attempts to get everyone off the Island, that he often completely misses the forest for the trees. And that can make him seem like a whiny jerk. (It also doesn't help that that Kate-Jack-Sawyer love triangle is still the worst element of the show, and he's incredibly prominent.)

So I can get the complaints that when Jack smashes the mirrors in the lighthouse near episode's end, he's just helping the show delay and obfuscate the truth for a while longer. (I'm also pretty angry that the lighthouse is obviously meant to bring back Desmond, and a "Lost" without Desmond is a "Lost" I enjoy ever-so-slightly less. Boo, Jack!) But I can see the flip side as well. The lighthouse is just further proof that Jack is not in control of his own destiny, that someone else has been jerking him around all these years. Who wouldn't react with childish petulance at that? And who wouldn't be made utterly despair-ridden by that? (After all, couldn't Jacob just level with him? Why all of this need-to-know stuff?)

It's the need-to-know basis that really trips up a lot of people, I think. Back in seasons two and three, it was a major tripping point for a lot of fans that the series was full of questions that none of the characters seemed particularly interested in having answered. And now that we're in the series' home stretch, it might seem all the more irritating that Jacob refuses to simply tell Jack which way is up and what he needs to do. But I think those who look at the show as a series about a bunch of rational actors trapped in an adventure tale are sometimes missing the point.

"Lost" has always been a series that's almost better read as a long string of religious symbols that add up to something like a narrative. To that end, having faith that you are on the right path is almost more important than knowing exactly why you're on the path you're on. Accepting that the Island has a will of its own and that you defy that will at your own peril is vastly important, too, as is accepting that the Island has two demigod types who will tell you things but color them with half-truths and blandishments about how you have to discover your own destiny. Sometimes, you have to accept that to see a lighthouse, you have to be looking for it in the first place (a declaration that's deeply religious in and of itself). And other times, looking into a mirror is to see your true self, to see all of the ways you disappoint yourself and all of the ways you can't match up. And that can be the most awful thing of all. In that instance, who wouldn't get a little glass smash happy?

So while I quibble with some of the stuff in Jack and Hurley's big, exciting walk -- like just how long the storyline seemed to take and the mostly pointless stopover at the caves (which mostly seemed designed to remind us the caves existed) -- I mostly enjoyed it in the spirit I think it was intended to be taken. Ever since he got off the Island, Jack's journey has been something akin to a religious pilgrimage. He's taking the steps toward becoming a true believer, that he might better do what the Island needs him to do. Never mind whether what the Island needs him to do is right or wrong. He's on his way to giving up his own free will to serve its ends. (Again, the series has flipped Locke and Jack in regard to their positions on the destiny vs. free will debate.) It also helped that this whole thing was filled with some really cool mythological beats, like seeing the names on the giant lighthouse wheel or Jack seeing what appeared to be the alternate universe in the mirrors, Hurley only able to shrug and say he had no idea what was going on.

Jack's also learning to let go and give in to something greater than himself over in his flash-sideways, which I thought started a little slow but picked up as the episode went along. The scenes of Jack frantically searching for his alternate universe son, followed by him finding the boy at the conservatory auditions and telling him that he would always love him were sweet, but they hearkened back to last week's storyline with alternate Locke. Just as Locke learned that embracing his destiny meant giving up the giant one he thought he had in store, Jack is learning that the best way to wash away the sins of his father is simply to be a better dad to his own son. Like most of these flash-sideways plots, this is a relatively simple story that feels more like a short story than a massive science-fiction behemoth, but it has a nice resonance with the on-Island action, and Fox plays his part well. (And, of course, we get the mystery of just who David's mother is. I'm guessing Sarah, Jack's ex-wife, but just wait and find out that it's Rousseau or someone.)

Back on the Island, as Jacob is warning Hurley that the Temple is about to be heavily attacked, we're spending time in the jungle with Jin and Claire. I loved the way this storyline played with the various meanings of the word "infected," and I'm pleasantly surprised by how well Emilie de Ravin, who hasn't had the world's most interesting character to play all these years, plays bugnuts insane. The big reveal that Claire's secret pen pal friend was fake Locke was fairly obvious from the get-go, but the pleasure here was in being reintroduced to crazy Claire and having Jin slowly realize just how deeply into it he was now that he was stuck with her. (A viewing companion compared this storyline to "Misery," and I can absolutely see that.) This was the extra bit of Island mystery to go along with the heavy religious and philosophical overtones in the Jack story, and it worked splendidly as a side dish of pure fun.

It's easy to spot the flaws in "Lighthouse," but it's also nice to see the show is slowly reconciling the many different faces of its hero as it heads into its final twists and turns. Jack has maybe never been my favorite character on the show, but it's arguable that the show would work as well as it does without him there to butt heads with the other characters or continue pushing forward on his own bull-headed plans. Jack is a guy who ignores the bigger picture in favor of his own selfish pursuits. He's a guy who'll blow up a hydrogen bomb to get a girl. He's maddening and infuriating precisely because of this but also precisely because, in a weird way, he's the "Lost" character who -- in all his preening and venality -- is the most like one of us.

Some other thoughts:

*Yeah, yeah, yeah. Dogen turns up in Jack's flash-sideways. I'm not sure this is meant to signify anything beyond, "Isn't that cool?!" so I didn't bring it up. But if you have alternate theories, go crazy in comments.

*Sorry this piece went up later than the others have. I was delighted to be a guest on "Instant Dharma," and hopefully you'll check out my guest spot when you have time.

*What are we to make of Claire's skeleton baby thing? On the one hand, it feels a little too much like something out of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or a young adult "coming of age in 1930s upstate New York" novel. On the other hand, I found it weirdly hilarious.

*Name spotting on the big wheel. Turns out Kate's still around (at 51!), but I didn't catch a whole lot of other names. Did you?

*Two personal things this episode managed: I have a big affinity for lighthouses, and I was in a bunch of piano competitions as a kid. I would have liked it even if the rest of the episode was just Jack smashing things.

*So is there anyone who could be coming to the Island besides Desmond or Charles Widmore? They're pretty much the last two puzzle pieces that have yet to be fitted into the big picture this season.

*I liked the lighthouse and all, but something about it put me in mind of that based-on-a-mysterious-island computer game "Myst," as well.

*Remember to send me your theories and links! You can post them here in comments, or you can e-mail me or contact me on Twitter. See you tomorrow!

--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photos: Above: Hurley (Jorge Garcia), left, and Jack (Matthew Fox) must go on a top-secret mission on "Lost." Below: Has Claire (Emilie de Ravin) just lost her mind, or is something more sinister going on? Credit: ABC

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Comments () | Archives (24)

You're right about the spiritual journey for Jack... tonight he seems to have finally realized that he's sick of trying to live up to his father's expectations. I don't think off-island stuff is really happening, however. It's all "flashes" to borrow the season three line from "Flashes Before Your Eyes" that don't show the real world, but what the characters wish the real world was like. Jack wishes he had a son so he could correct all the mistakes his father made with him.

The tic-tac-toe game ends in a DRAW. Foreshadowing of coming island conflict?

Hurley's line - He broke the lighthouse, mission unaccomplished - hilarious.

It's not really 13 hours left, is it? Without ads, episodes are say around 45 minutes, so it's really around 10 hours, a little less.

One gripe.

The sheet music (some classical musicians call them scores) barely has any markings and only one comment? A piece you've learned, especially memorized for performance, has tons of markings and most teachers and pianists use a pencil and the score is a bit worn from handling and page turns.

And the written remark, pick up the pace - who writes that? In big frakking red? How about 'faster', 'presto', 'acclerando'?

I do appreciate the self-referential irony though - pick up the pace referring to the pace of the storyline. Ha ha! Two self-references (Adam & Eve the other.) I guess for most people it makes sense, but for me it could have been more subtle.

And the version of the score doesn't look well edited - most conservatory students or potential students should have a better edited or urtext version. I realize the score has to be in David's room for dramatic effect, but most students would take it to an audition for study, but he could have had a copy.

As usual, the entertainment biz woefully gets classical music details wrong but we are such a niche, niche, niche genre. I realize Lost pays alot of attention to detail and I appreciate it, but even Lost can't break the most people don't know Bo Diddley about classical music cycle.

Anyways, I have no idea what Chopin has to do with Lost - perhaps he was a candidate?


I hope Lost goes: episode with some reveals, episode with some reveals, episode with some reveals, episode with some reveals, ... satisfying finale.

Yeah, Wallace could show up. Or, Eloise. But, I'm going with Wallace.

This was an entertaining, well-written piece, Todd. Keep up the good work.

I disagree that Desmond and Widmore are the only missing big picture pieces.. WHERE IS WALT? What is going on with Walt and Michael? I think those have to be major puzzle pieces!

I was thinking Jack's ex-wife in the flash sideways might be Penny or even Juliet.

I'd LOVE to see Desmond back as a regular, and I agree a Lost without Desmond is a little less enjoyable.

I agree about Juliet possibly being the mother of Jack's by. And I bet she ends up with Sawyer in the end of the flash-sideways world.

Did anyone see the name on 108? I think I saw Wallace?

I also agree, Jack is a bit of a cry baby and they've let other characters that could have been interesting, like Sayid and Desmond, take a backseat.

Why would Claire kill Kate for taking her baby? Does Claire not know she did it to save him? Or is she taking it literally that she can be the only one to raise him?

I like Desmond too but why would he be coming back to the island? What good is he to anyone? I think Daniel Farady is the one coming back - he being the time traveling geek who's figured it all out...

I noticed Jarrah's name on the lighthouse wheel and was surprised Jack didn't want to know what the degrees for other people showed... its is so unlike him. But then what do I know - I haven't had someone stalk and control me for years :o)

Did I miss something? We never knew that Jack had a son until now, right? Jack's son, David has some very very distinct features - his lips, his eyes. Kinda reminds me of either Juliet or that other girl who for a couple of episodes was with Hugo. Tried to help him loose weight, give up junk food etc., was killed by Michael in the hatch...

I disagree with your statement, "Jack is a guy who ignores the bigger picture in favor of his own selfish pursuits. He's a guy who'll blow up a hydrogen bomb to get a girl."

Jack is the most worthy and noble character of them all. He didn't blow up the hydrogen bomb to get a girl. In blowing up the hydrogen bomb, he was giving up the girl. If the plane never crashes, the history and love between Jack and Kate never happened. Everything Jack has ever done even though the consequences may not have been what he expected or positive, he has done to help the other survivors survive.

Loved the mirror stuff - a great allusion to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, but also to previous episodes...tied together with the Alice in Wonderland stories, the mirror reminded us of the episodes, "Through the Looking Glass," in which Charlie died in the Dharma Station, "The Looking Glass" - love all the connections!

I blog about this episode at http://themothchase.wordpress.com

I think that your last paragraph about Jack is interesting and I think it explains a lot about what you referred to in the begining regarding Kate originally being put as the main character. Everything that we have come to know as Jack (caring about himself, being stubborn, doing things that stop the audience from getting what they want, etc) are all the same qualities that Kate has. This is why even though I can not see the show without either of them at this point (except for the fact that Kate seems to have little to no relevance now and I hope Claire kills her because it would be awesome and shocking...especially since I do not see her living as number 51) it is clear that if you take out all of Jacks off-island plot and Christian they are the same character. The Lost team might have even originally had Kate's father play a role and have her question her decisions off the island but they changed it to Jack after they needed more plot for him.

Good article...just some random thoughts

Jack destroys the lighthouse (as Jacob knew he would) thus insuring someone "finds their way to the island" by crashing into it, instead of being warned by a lighthouse

also ... Jack's kid ... i know it was just a plot device, but what kid has an answering machine? most kids are either cell phone only or if they do have a phone, use voice mail

Libby is the Hurley girlfriend you were trying to think of

While Jack is a somewhat sympathetic character back in LA, everything he does on the island makes me angry. Shattering the mirrors took away an opportunity to learn more about the island mysteries. What else does he have to occupy his time, sit around the temple courtyard?

The producers are also disguising the whole good/evil thing. Claire killed Justin because she knew he would kill her if she didn't. Justin confirms this when telling Jin that we will break her neck. She is also accurate in saying they wanted to kill her in the temple. Didn't they do the same to Sayid? I can't see how anyone would look at the others or Jacob as good...in the end we will see Locke as the good guy.

I kinda have to agree with TC's reading of Jack. As irritating as Jack is, as frustrating as he was in seasons 2 and 3, he's typically acting out of some sense of greater good for the other survivors. Since his three years back in LA he sort of lost his mind and now I'm not sure what his real motivation is, but I think he was making a fairly large sacrifice by blowing up Jughead in favor of a second incident.

And yet I still find him irritating.

I just want to clarify and eat a little crow from last week's comment. I got the nature of Locke's discussion about backgammon with Walt wrong. He never explicitly talks about good vs evil, just that the pieces are "light and dark." My bad. I will do better homework next time.

So does anyone know if Jack ever explicitly mentioned NOT having a son or family of his own in the first four seasons? I believe that the writers are simply establishing the differences between 2004 timeline Jack and 2007 timeline Jack, but there seems to be some confusion as to whether or not David is Jack's Dawn (from Buffy).

By the way, great review. Even though this was more or less a setting-pieces-in-motion episode, I thought it was pretty good. I even enjoyed the (almost) pointless walking through the jungle moments.

I don't think it's ever been suggested that Jack had a kid before now.

But then, Locke lost Helen well before he headed for the Outback.

The bomb going off did more than just allow the plane to land. I think we have to remember that it changed an element of history going much further back which could lead to these longer-range changes (like Ben being a history teacher and Jack having a kid).

I think people in the Camp are done for. RIP

I think number 108 is demond who needs to get back to the island. I think Desmond is another cadidate not mentioned because a couple years ago after the season 4 finale they relesed two other versions of who would be in lockes coffine if word got out so one was saywer ( a canidate) and the other was desmond. I would guess that they would have wanted to kill of a canidate so that the story would be the same just flip the designated numbers to each person (ex: 4-Locke 8-Hurly 15 Desmond 16-Jarrah 23-sheperd (Could mean Christian) 42-Kwon 108-Saywer)

So you're right. Jack wouldn't blow up a bomb to get a girl, he'll blow up a bomb to FORGET a girl. The entire "Jack does everything he does to help someone else" doesn't hold water. Frequently, his rash actions gave no time for thought. HE invites Kate to go to the lighthouse...remember that exchange("She's not invited, Dude..." "Well, I'M inviting her..."). Yeah, that was considering other people.

Locke asked him on the outside to return to the Island and initially, he bowed up. Then it's all, "We've got to go back, Kate..." He wasn't thinking of the Island people left behind for most of the three years he was outside. He admitted it to Hurley last night: "I came back to the Island because I was broken."

Jack is not bad, but not all that noble, either. He's simply a control freak.

So either Jack isn't all that concerned about anyone but himself, or the writers a certainly doing a bang up job of making him appear schizophrenic.

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