"Lost" in Translation – Child is the Father to the Man

Mama said knock you out!

Talk about feeling lost: parents never really know what’s going on with, or what they’ve done to, their own kids until it’s too late to do anything about it. I just listened to a song by Okkervil River, “Savannah Smiles,” that captures the feeling. Tune is “Savannah Smiles,” the narrator a divorced dad contemplating what he’d just learned by (accidentally) reading a page of his teenaged daughter’s diary. In that moment he realizes he can’t reconcile the smiling photos he keeps on his wall with the feelings she records by hand.

“Is she someone I don’t know at all? Is she someone I betrayed?”

So back to “Lost,” and another haunting episode describing the emotional discord haunting its characters: the disconnections between parents and children; the terrors of a failed parent; the scars borne by lost and confused children. Particularly when they become parents themselves, and realize how their wounds now define the unhappy relationships they have formed with their own children.

“Just cannot believe, could do that to a child,” the song continues, far beyond the point where feelings trump words. “A child, a child.”

It’s easy to forget how crucial the emotional side of the saga has been; how easy it is to get so caught up in the action we barely notice how we keep coming back to these particular headwaters. It’s the one undertow that never, ever loses its grip.

“Lighthouse” was a Jack-centric episode, toggling between Island Jack in 2007 and alterna-Jack in Los Angeles, 2004. Island Jack, we recall, lives in a jungle of his father’s creation. We’ve always known how fraught/broken the relationship between Christian and Jack Shephard has been. It is Jack’s most primal experience: of loving and fearing his dad; the tangled strands of admiration and resentment; the love and the hatred; the need to be nurtured, and to destroy. Jack was bringing his (alcoholic) dad’s body home from Australia when he stepped onto Oceanic #815, and when the plane crashed the impact seemed to revive Christian’s soul: He kept reappearing, silently, only to lead Jack further into the depths of a literal/figurative jungle that presented far more questions than answers.

As the series continued it seemed that Christian had some connection to Jacob. He appeared in Jacob’s stead. He delivered (or claimed to deliver) Jacob’s instructions. But now that Jacob has stepped in himself, in both real and spectral forms, the connections between the Island’s Good Father and Jack’s bad daddy have grown murkier. Is there a reason why Christian and Jacob have never been seen together? And if the Man in Black has the power to animate the bodies of the dead, doesn’t it make sense that Jacob would, too? Has he been walking in Christian’s burial suit for all these years?

What seems clear now is that Jacob plays the role of Father of Fathers. From his perch on the Island – and in that groovy, previously-unseen lighthouse – he has been keeping track of his charges, monitoring their lives and stepping in when it seems they need a gentle push to keep them moving in the right direction.

Jacob’s vision of a right direction, anyway, which opens up an interesting can of worms: For all his clear-eyed, seemingly warm-hearted affection for the Losties, has Jacob’s presence enriched their lives, or simply made them much, much worse?

Consider that alterna-Jack in L.A. – the Jack who never went to the island and seems untouched by Jacob’s presence – is actively breaking the cycles of dysfunction that “broke” him (as the other Jack tells Hurley on the island). So while his relationship with his own teenaged son (who didn’t even exist until now) bears the marks of his own disconnection from Christian, Jack is growing and changing on his own. He comes to terms with his own feelings for his dad, admits his failings as a father and these revelations lead him to reconnect with his own son.

We’ve seen this again and again in the alterna-Losties in Los Angeles: From Locke to Hurley and now to Jack, the bonds between fathers and sons seem far more functional than it is in their island alter-egos. And now that Jacob presents himself as a kind of father-in-general. . . . God the father. . . what are we to make of how screwed up the Jacob-influenced Losties are? Why are the Jacob-free characters so much more able to control, and find satisfaction, in their lives?

Back on Jacob’s island virtually every paternal/maternal relationship is a disaster. Most vivid case in point: Crazy jungle Claire and her insane pursuit for Aaron, who she saw last when she abandoned him on a log and wandered off into the jungle, presumably in the grip of the Man in Black, or some other wicked force. Now she’s basically Rousseau 2.0, wild-eyed and dangerous, stalking the jungle for a lost child. She has no idea where the kid is, but her free-wheeling desperation to reconnect has turned her psychotic. She’ll kill any and everyone she encounters, always in the name of her lost child, but actually because her maternal instincts have been subsumed, and poisoned, by the island’s darker forces.

So is the dark force the Man in Black, or is Jacob fostering the darkness too? Consider how he manipulates Hurley into leading Jack to the lighthouse, seemingly to help guide someone else to the island. Only, when Jack realizes that the lighthouse is actually Jacob’s monitoring station – that the mirrors are what have given Jacob the power to see into their lives – he smashes the whole works to smithereens. A fact Jacob takes with surprising aplomb. In fact, it was the plan all along:

“It’s the only way for him to understand how important he is,” Jacob tells Hurley. “Jack is here to do something. He can’t be told what it is, he has to find it himself.”

This is Jacob’s version of paternal guidance. Whether his lighthouse is leading him – and everyone else – to a safe harbor or onto the rocks still isn’t clear.