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Lost: Jack Shephard

January 21, 2009

(Indulge me. As we near the Season 5 premiere of Lost, I’m going to run through the current crop of main characters; this is the final instalment. There are spoilers.)

Lost is about Jack. Go ahead with your Hurley-centric theories, or your ideas that it’s all about Libby or whatever. It’s about Jack, and it always has been.

Well, actually, it hasn’t. Originally, Jack was to die in the pilot, a bit of trickery that would have the audience believe he was the leading man, only to see the smoke monster eat him. At that stage, Michael Keaton was intended to play Jack. But when the decision was made to keep Jack alive (the airliner pilot died in his place), Keaton was not the right choice, so Matthew Fox was drafted.

I had misgivings about this when I first discovered Lost, because I knew Fox only as that guy from Party of Five. But he has made this role his. Jack is a complex, difficult character, a hero who isn’t really heroic, a flawed leading man. Nobody much likes him, but everyone listens to him. And Fox plays this role perfectly; you buy him as an asskicker, and you buy him as a sensitive surgeon.

When last we saw Jack, he was in the depths of despair, a bearded, stumbling, drug-addicted disaster. His heroism as a surgeon and as a crash survivor were forgotten, drowned in an ocean of liquor. And he knew he had to go back. He broke into the funeral home to see Locke’s corpse, and Ben showed up.

Highlights

  • Beating Locke up at Boone’s funeral.
  • His Live Together, Die Alone speech.
  • Getting the shit kicked out of him by Ethan, then returning the favour.
  • Holding the Others “hostage” with a needle, thread and Ben on the surgical table.
  • The never-ceasing optimism that fuelled him through 108 days on the island.
  • Learning Claire is his sister.
  • It’s amazing how Matthew Fox’s tattoos provoked such buzz right from day 1. Only on TV could a Party of Five commemorative tattoo become part of a science fiction mythology.
  • Fox and John Terry, who plays his father, work perfectly together. They even look alike. It’s one of the best storylines on the show.
  • His taste in music. Early Nirvana? The Pixies? Cool.

Problems

  • We had to watch Stranger in a Strange Land to learn about the tattoos. Bai Ling is scary.
  • It’s clear the writers had trouble with the Jack character in season 3. He was clearly being groomed to switch sides, but when the decision was made to end the show in 2010, the need to “flesh out” the series was gone and the team was able to get Jack back on track. You can actually see this happen in season 3, after he spends several episodes just hanging around with Juliet; once things were set, Jack starts kicking ass again.
  • As good as Fox is, he has a limited facial range. There’s actually a drinking game out there called Jackface.
  • Why does his mother look so much like Kate? Or vice-versa? That says a lot.
  • Whoever named this character sure came up with an interesting spelling of his last name.
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