Lost poster with the ensemble cast lined up at the to of a cliff. From Rotten Tomatoes.(Giveaway: One commenter will get the hardcover edition of Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes.)

Like the show itself, this is a very long column. Unlike the show, it’s only about one thing. 

Lost aired on ABC from 2004-2010, six enigmatic seasons that left a vocal and devoted fanbase, and a larger audience whose reaction seemed to be more like, “Huh? What?” when they watched the final season—especially the final episode.

Lost can be purchased via Youtube or Amazon Prime. I stopped watching the show early in its original run, maybe at the end of Season Three,  but recently, via Xfinity On Demand, I watched it all the way through to the end.

The show is twenty years old. This column and any others I write will contain spoilers.

J.J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof get the credit or the blame for this show, which blended genres with a varying degree of success. At times, the show included fantasy tropes, secret histories, time travel, and more angst than most daytime soap-operas could muster up. After an airliner crashes on a deserted south Pacific island—an island that can’t be found by radar, satellites, or Google Earth–the survivors try to, well, survive, while they uncover weirdness, mystery and murderous Others.

For an island that can’t be reached or left successfully by boat, plane or helicopter, the island of Lost has a population roughly that of Disneyland on a summer weekend. Each time the showrunners seemed to write themselves into a corner, another group of characters would show up. Some, the Others, had supposedly been there the whole time (“whole time” having a relative value). Other groups knew how to “find the island” and so on. With all these disparate tribes wandering around committing mayhem, one theme stands out. Whether it’s baby-stealing locals, a mysterious button that has to be pushed every 108 minutes, a derelict 19th century ship full of unstable dynamite, or the Dharma Initiative, the terrain we visit has one outstanding characteristic. It is the Island of Terrible Dads. Nearly every major character, and most subsidiary ones, have terrible dads. The best a character can hope for is an absent father who didn’t mess them up too much.

–Jack’s Dad, Christian Shepherd (sit with that name for a moment), appears in the show the most of the Bad Dads, which is quite a feat considering he’s dead. When he was alive, he was an absentee father to Claire, his out-of-wedlock daughter. He does show up in her life finally, to give her terrible advice. In Jack’s life, Christian is a controlling alcoholic who feeds his son’s self-doubt with conflicting messages. As a bonus, during a chance encounter in Australia, Christian encourages Sawyer to kill an innocent man. All this happens before he hosts one of the demi-god brothers who inhabit the island.

–John Locke’s dad wins the gold for Bad Dads. This guy never appeared in Locke’s life as a child. When he shows up, he cons Locke out of a kidney and later kicks him out of an eight-story window, which causes Locke’s paralysis. Father of the Year?

–James Sawyer’s dad kills Sawyer’s mother and then himself while his eight-year-old son is in the room, sending Sawyer on a lifelong vengeance quest.

–Hurley’s dad takes off when Hurley’s ten years old. Surprisingly, this dad comes back and makes amends. Still, you’re starting to see the theme.

–Kwon Jin Soo’s dad, a lowly fisherman, is good, but Jin is ashamed of his low status. He becomes entangled with his father-in-law, Sun’s vicious crime-lord dad, who definitely makes the Bad Dad list.

— Kwon Sun Swa’s dad; patriarchal crime-lord. On the bright side, he teaches Sun deception, which helps her a lot on the island.

–Kate Austin’s father is a physically abusive alcoholic, so terrible that Kate kills him.

–Walt Lloyd had a stepfather who was afraid of him, and after his mother died, he ends up with a man who says he’s Walt’s biological father, but Walt has only known him about a week before they end up on the island.

–On the flip side, Michael Dawson, Walt’s dad, struggles to protect and bond with his boy, but Walt’s mother kept him from Michael his whole life. Michael and Walt’s story is one of the best of the early seasons until the showrunners jettison it.

–Sayid Jarrah’s father appears once during the run of the show, berating Sayid’s older brother for being too tender-hearted to kill a chicken. Sayid does it instead and gets praise. This is one of the more benign dads.

–Ben Linus’s dad, Roger, constantly blames Ben because Ben’s mother died during childbirth. Roger is especially careful to remind Ben of this on Ben’s birthday every year. His behavior is part of what drives Ben to join the Others. (Or at least this is true until the Time Travel season.)

–Ben is a dad himself, or at least a “dad.” Alex is not his biological daughter, just a baby he kidnapped from a woman stranded on the island because that’s what the Others do. His relationship with Alex is troubled. It seems like Ben loves her, but he can’t stop manipulating, even her.

–Miles Straum, the psychic medium who appears in Season Three, grows up believing that his father threw him and his mother out for no reason.

–Penny Whidmore’s dad is, well, not quite a Big Bad, just a Medium-Sized Bad. Some fans insist that Charles Whidmore is the ultimate villain, but really, it’s a crowded field. Whidmore manipulates Penny and disregards his out-of-wedlock (oh, look! It’s a pattern!) son Daniel.

–We see nothing of  addict and pop-star Charlie’s father, so we can assume he’s out of the picture.

While Lost rolls through various genres in its six-year run, clearly one of its themes is the seething stew of father-and-son conflict. At first glance (and, frankly, second and third glance) it seems like the showrunners, back then anyway, could not conceive of an internal conflict for a character that didn’t involve a dad figure. Furthermore, abusive dads seem to all be alcoholic abusive dads. Surely more imagination could have been employed.

In addition to literal fathers, the show bubbles over with father figures. Boone’s devotion to Locke makes Locke a father figure, a role Locke accepts and fails at. The constant struggle over leadership of the Others takes on a paternal quality, especially once you add the invisible, enigmatic Jacob to the mix. In the first three seasons, the words “protector” and “leader” seem synonymous with “dad” seen from a child’s point of view—powerful and capricious beings who make demands for no reason, who won’t explain decisions or orders. By Season Three, the attitude toward father figures shifts to one that would have Sigmund Freud rubbing his hands with glee—the father must be eliminated for the male character to “advance.” Richard says this to Locke in almost so many words; He has to get his father out of his path if he is to succeed.

It seems ironic that the two demi-gods (one of whom is Jacob), the battling brothers, only have a mother-figure. They waste no time in assuming Bad Dad qualities, though. They are merciless, and one, at least, is vocally judgmental and a chronic liar. They are both big on sacrifice—of other people, not themselves.

This show delivered the “bad dad” trope perfectly and consistently—in fact, it might be the only thing that is consistent in the entire run of the series.

In later columns I’ll share my views by season. On rewatch, I’m not loving the show, but there is a lot to admire here, and a lot to discuss, so I’m going to. I’ll hope you come along. Don’t worry, I can get us off the island. I’m the only one who can. How? I can’t tell you. You’ll just have to trust me.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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