Thursday, April 16, 2009

You Don't Know Jack

I do plan to use this space in the future to talk about more than Lost, but with the latest episode (Some Like It Hoth) still weighing heavily on my mind, and the season five finale looming over our heads in the near future, I wanted to take a moment to unload my opinion regarding a character for whom so many fans of Lost seem to have the most polarizing emotions. You either love the guy or you hate him. Very few of us are objective here. I like to think I can be objective, because I try to approach shows like Lost from the perspective of an aspiring writer, or rather, a bitter rejected writer who gave up years ago trying to make it in the world and envious of those who can.

When it comes to Dr. Jack Shephard, I'm unable to be objective. Furthermore his continued presence on the series makes me realize I'm not able to be as objective as I'd like to be about any character on any show, and when I think I am, I'm only fooling myself. On the surface I think, and have thought since about halfway through season one, that Jack is a tool. He's a douche. He's an asshole. I think the writers purposefully invented a character that we'd fall in love with from the get go, and then the more we learn of him the more we find he's a rimjob. However, first impressions are very powerful. A woman falls in love with a man who later starts abusing her, but she's so enamored by who she thinks she knows he really is, that she tries to get past his flaws and tendencies to cause her pain, because she believes deep down he's just as honorable and likeable as he was on the surface when they first met. In the case of Jack, I don't think there is a soft gooey center. I think deep down he's empty.

When we first meet him, he's all over that beach. There's scores of people dead, dozens of people injured, and he's quite objectively the only person within shouting distance qualified to handle the situation. People have argued at length that he has some kind of hero complex, and the tv series itself has admitted that Jack has an obsession with fixing things. I don't fully fall for that line of psychological pandering. I think in the moment on the beach after the crash, Jack was not trying to be a hero. He was simply reacting to the situation.

If you're a doctor, and have enough experience under your belt to be called a Chief Surgeon at a prestigious hospital in a major metropolitan area, you have served more hours than you'd probably wanna count in the ER. That's where they cut the teeth of new recruits in the medical game, and that's where old veterans go to die. When you pull several twelve hour shifts in the Emergency wing of a large hospital, you're gonna see your share of emergencies, and you're going to learn how to deal with them as they come in much the same way a kid learns how to swim or ride a bicycle. You keep doing it till you get it right, or die trying. You do it until you get muscle memory for it, till you can do it in your sleep, cuz sometimes you are. There's no rest for the weary when you're under the gun and on the clock in an ER. From a domestic fire to a gang war to unanticipated problems at a construction site, whatever the cause of the injuries is not relevant - all that matters is you got a body in front of you that doesn't want to die and you patch it back together so it won't - or you fail and a life is lost. Then you move on to the next one.

When Jack Shephard ran out of that jungle and saw bodies strewn about all over the shoreline, he just went into ER mode. It's what his muscles knew to do. He was fired up on so much adrenaline that he barely stopped to notice his own injuries until everyone else was stable. Does that still make you a hero if you've been programmed since medical school to be one?

Since that day, most of the rest of the survivors just instinctively turned to Jack as their leader. Why is that? For the same reason he turned to ER mode when he saw injured. We as human beings are independent thinkers but we are also instinctively creatures of habit. Jack's performance that first day gave the other survivors an illusion of security. They thought a man who behaved like Jack did, personally attending to their wounds and instinctively working up near future plans for how to survive the immediate crisis, would naturally mean this was the guy qualified for getting them off the island. They were wrong. Jack had been trained to take care of immediate pressing issues, but he had no tactical experience in long range plans with unspecified enemies and dangers. He made choices and people followed his orders and he was wrong and they were wrong.

Jack suggested they all move to the caves, without thinking to see if they were even structurally sound. Jack antagonized the native population of the Island when he should have been diplomatically negotiating a truce. Jack promised to get everyone rescued and he was only able to save six of them, and even then not for very long. His behaviors have proven reactionary, with little to no thought. I think when he tried to commit suicide on the bridge, that was ultimately what he had come to terms with - every action he had made since that day had been wrong. He hadn't thought things through, and he was fully unqualified to be the leader of the survivors. It had never even been his choice to make. He was never even given an opportunity to say no. Just as he became a doctor because his father told him to be a doctor, the survivors unofficially chose him as their leader and he just went along with it. Why? Cuz that's all he knows. Jack's not a leader. He never has been. He became Chief of Surgery and he became the leader of the Losties for the same reason: he's following his dad. He's following Christian. He became a leader because he's a follower.

The only good thing he's done recently is to back off and watch Sawyer dig himself into a hole by doing exactly the opposite: Sawyer's now essentially the leader of what's left of the Losties. He's trying to solve their current predicament through guile and cunning and subterfuge. Why? Cuz that's what he knows. That's how he's been trained since youth - to be a con man. The really funny thing? He's not doing a lot better than Jack did.

1 comment:

Juanita's Journal said...

The only good thing he's done recently is to back off and watch Sawyer dig himself into a hole by doing exactly the opposite: Sawyer's now essentially the leader of what's left of the Losties. He's trying to solve their current predicament through guile and cunning and subterfuge. Why? Cuz that's what he knows. That's how he's been trained since youth - to be a con man. The really funny thing? He's not doing a lot better than Jack did.


You know, you are the first person to actually realize this.